America's Most Well-Read Cities

(Photo: Chris)

Amazon has just released its third annual list of the Most Well-Read Cities of America — a ranking based on per-capita “sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format.”  Here are the top 5:

  1. Alexandria, Va.
  2. Knoxville, Tenn.
  3. Miami, Fla.
  4. Cambridge, Mass.
  5. Orlando, Fla.

What surprises you?

(HT: Infectious Greed)

Seminymous Coward

Knoxville is obviously the surprise. Alexandria is full of people obsessed with every imaginable policy and the schools their kids attend. Florida has a high population of retirees, who have ample leisure time and are more like to read traditional media than younger generations. Cambridge has Harvard and MIT plus some other universities and numerous businesses founded by that crowd. All of those have large populations of people who would not just a lot of traditional media but be able to afford to buy a lot of it. I don't have anything against Knoxville, but it stands out.

I object somewhat to determining well-read based purely on book and periodical sales. I do a huge fraction of my reading on the internet, and, when I read traditional media in bulk as a child, it was borrowed from the library.


University of Tennesee


What surprises me is that Freaonomics is posting this. Perhaps I am wrong, but as best as I can tell, this is Amazon's data. So these are the cities with the highest per-capita sales on Amazon. That doesn't really make them well-read, just more inclined to purchase from Amazon (as opposed to other online sources, the library or brick-and-mortar stores). I really don't find that information to be Freakonomics worthy.


Yes and yes, that is exactly what I concluded from their report. Other cities may choose to frequent public libraries or local book stores.


I object somewhat to determining well-read based on sales of 50 Shades of Grey.


Ironically, the only bookstore in Old Town Alexandria (effectively, their downtown), closed over a year ago.


That they could simply equate sales with being well read. Lots of us have access to decent library systems (both public and university). I probably buy less than 10% of the books I read.


It might be that this just measures the places where people buy books from Amazon instead of using bookstores or libraries, but then again, it might not. For example, in the case of Cambridge, their high ranking can't be the result of poor library access (the Cambridge and Boston libraries are excellent), or a lack of high-quality local bookstores.

I do wonder if the results change if one excludes textbooks, though.


These are not America's most well read cities. These are the cities where people buy lots from Amazon. Library bloggers have been ranting about this mis named list for a couple of days now. To determine Well Read cities one should take into account things like periodical and newspaper subscriptions, library circulation, chain and independent book store sales, academic institutions etc. etc. and so forth.

Jay Croft

In defense of Knoxville:

The University of Tennessee is located in downtown and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (think atom bombs) is a western suburb.

I wasn't as surprised at this as I was Orlando.


I don't know how the data is tabulated (based on Credit card info or on location where the reading is done) but if it's based on location Orlando, as a vacation hotspot likely has a lot of poolside book buying and reading.


Moved to Orlando area a few years ago. The ranking you list must be in reference to the tourists down here. I assure you, unless the natives have found a way to smoke them, float them, or simply turn the pages into ammo- they aren't buying them.


I have a problem calling this list the "most well-read" when it makes no distinction between academic journals, literary classics, and seventeen magazine.

I have to wonder if these are just the cities with the laziest readers (preference for delivery over in-store purchases).


I think this may be a signal of the poor quality of the public library system in some of the cities just as much as the readership. (I'm looking at you, Orlando).

I've visited 3 of the library branches in the Orlando area, and in all of them, there were more DVDs on the shelves than there were books. In one (Windermere), the entire non-fiction section fit in about three 10-foot isles of shelf space.


2,3 and 5.

Bill Foster

This is based on Amazon sales. That means it has a lot more to do with the presence (of lack thereof) of bookstores than anything anything else. I live in Knoxville and Borders closed here so we have one Books-a-million and one Barnes & Noble and they are three blocks apart. Neither mall has a bookstore. The two largest shopping areas don't have bookstores. There are only two independent booksellers and they are small (although we do have a large used store). So, more people order from Amazon. Additionally, we have a large expat community at the lab and a large university. I would imagine both those things correlate with increased Amazon sales. Finally, buying books and magazines doesn't equal well-read. Look at what they are reading. The number one best selling book here was 50 Shades of Grey, which is the worst written thing in existence until Dan Brown's new book comes out. I am sure we sell lots of copies of Us and Guns and Ammo.

Don't get me wrong btw. This town is a treasure. But, this "study" is unworthy of Freakonomics unless you are using it to illustrate flaws.

PS: We were also on a list of "most romantic" cities, which was determined by the sales of romance novels and "martial aids." No flawed methodology there.



Sounds like these well-read folk need to read up on how to get their literature for free.

Jack Cunningham

Cambridge doesn't surprise me, it reminds me about that joke used to highlight how so much research was going on in Cambrige: Harvard, MIT and Cambridge, UK.
Time was invented so that everything didn't happen at once, space was invented so that everything didn't happen at Cambridge.


I'm from Miami and find it hard to believe that they would place 3rd on this list. Must be the concentration of UM students in the area.