Amazon.com's 'most well-read cities' list upends conventional thinking

On May 15, Amazon.com released their own "Most Well-Read Cities in America" list. These new figures may rewrite what we've come to know about America's literary geography.
Written by Claire Lambrecht, Contributor
Farmers market in Alexandria, Va. (Photo: William F. Yurasko/Flickr)

In January, Washington, D.C., was named the "most literate" city in America by Central Connecticut State (CCSU) University. For many, this did not come as a surprise. Washington, D.C., along with stalwarts like Seattle, Wash., and Minneapolis, Minn., has been a regular fixture in CCSU's "America's Most Literate Cities" list since the college first published their ratings in 2005.

Recently, however, CCSU's conclusions are being called into question. On May 15, the Internet bookseller Amazon.com released their own "Most Well-Read Cities in America" list. Amazon's figures, which are based upon aggregate print and digital sales of books, magazines, and newspapers, paint a very different portrait of America's literary geography.

Here is the most recent list by CCSU:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Seattle, Wa.
  3. Minneapolis, Minn.
  4. Atlanta, Ga.
  5. Boston, Mass.
  6. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  7. Cincinnati, Oh.
  8. St. Louis, Mo.
  9. San Francisco, Ca.
  10. Denver, Co.

Here are the top 10 from Amazon:

  1. Alexandria, Va.
  2. Cambridge, Mass.
  3. Berkeley, Ca.
  4. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  5. Boulder, Co.
  6. Miami, Fl.
  7. Arlington, Va.
  8. Gainesville, Fl.
  9. Washington, D.C.
  10. Salt Lake City, Ut.

Which is not to say, however, that CCSU's figures are incorrect. Rather, the methodology of the two lists are strikingly different. Amazon's list takes into account only the sales of its own products. CCSU's, on the other hand, includes data from newspapers, magazines, journals, the Internet, booksellers, and bookstores as well as figures about educational attainment and the library patronage of communities across the country. Additionally, CCSU's list only includes metropolitan areas over 250,000 people. Amazon's list includes communities with 100,000 people or more.

While the contents of each list are different, the geographic distance between the two top contenders -- Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va. -- is just over seven miles. Whether this is a good thing or not is hard to tell. According to Amazon, Alexandria leads the nation in the purchase of Romance books. One might hope that their Washington counterparts, steering the tiller of the country, are reading something slightly more relevant. With Fifty Shades of Grey breaking eBook download records, however, all bets may be off.

Photo: William F. Yurasko/Flickr

Correction: The caption and city referenced in the last paragraph should be Alexandria, Va., rather than Arlington, Va., as was originally written.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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