How Many People Finish Books?

by | Jan 18, 2018


Data about our lives is being collected in ways we may have never before imagined. A few days ago I finished a book on my Kindle app for iPad. Within a minute a got an email from Goodreads asking me how I liked the book I just finished and suggested others I might like (btw – it was great book called “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko – I’d highly recommend it).

When we read on an e-reader many details are known to Amazon/BN/Kobo/Apple about who exactly is buying the book and our behavior with the book. Data is being mined about how much of various books we read, how long it took us to read them, how often we picked them up vs. put them down., etc. Of particular interest is how often we finish books. Here are some stats:

  • According to the e-book firm Kobo The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was the 37th best selling book of 2014 and won the Pulitzer Prize but was only finished by 44% of those who started the book.
  • Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup was finished 28% of the time in 2014 (this book, written in 1853 was widely bought in 2014 due to the movie being released) – data also from Kobo.
  • Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician, by comparing highlighted passages in beginning vs. end of books found that Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow was only finished 7% of the time and much lauded and discussed Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Pickety was finished less than 3% of the time.
  • Being a best-seller didn’t necessarily correlate with being a book that was finished. According to Kobo thrillers and romance novels have the highest completion rates in general.
  • The most completed book in the UK in 2014 was the self-published thriller/crime drama Rotten to the Core by Casey Kelleher with an 83% completion rate according to Kobo.
  • The completion rate for books in the mystery genre is 62%. Kobo didn’t share overall completion data for other genres. Unfortunately, Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have not shared their readership data.
  • The most highlighted passage in the history of Kindle (as of July 2014) was this sentence from “Catching Fire” (book 2 of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” That was highlighted by 28,703 readers.

Link to Kobo whitepaper on publishing and big data (interesting): Publishing and Big Data

1 Comment

  1. My experience is that when people have speed reading skills (or spd rdng sklls) they finish all the books they want to read or speed read. With ebooks, using popular highlights is one speed reading tip, I’d give as a speed reading coach and author of The Speed Reading Bible, to get the gist of most factual ebooks in minutes. Using summaries is a valid, easy and quick way of getting through books to get overviews and details. According to research, people who read summaries remember more, for longer.


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