The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Feb 11, 2009

Readers on the WC Line

For the past few days, I've been jotting down figures on a little scrap of paper as I travel on the Underground. For my efforts, I've received unblinking glares and suspicious stares of my fellow passengers. I blame Veena and her demographic research. She wanted to know what the bankers on the Waterloo and City Line read (as opposed to the folks she saw on the Northern Line). Here's what I found.

The majority reads nothing. They stand vacantly, shifting from foot to foot, or sit drooling at each other. I counted 333 people in the past week, of which 49% had reading material in their paws. Of these, the distribution was as follows:

  1. Free Papers (Metro and its afternoon cousins): 76%
  2. Broadsheets (Guardian, Independent, Times, Telegraph, Evening Standard): 6%
  3. Financial Times: 2% (well, 3 readers in all. Three! I'm not too surprised, though. The financial decision-makers would have obtained all the relevant news on their Blackberries or Bloomberg or Reuters screens the previous day.)
  4. Fiction: 10%
  5. Non-fiction: 5%
  6. The Economist: 1% (Now this is a bit surprising. I thought there might be a lot more middle-brow people among the City punters. I guess I was wrong.)

No preponderance of any particular kind of fiction. Of the 16 books I saw, I didn't observe any title repeated. Nor were any of the books particularly memorable. One guy avidly clutched at a brick of a Japanese thriller by Koushun Takami (in translation, of course). One woman read a Carlos Ruiz Zafon book in the original.

The (few) non-fiction readers proved just slightly more eclectic in their variety. There was a philosophy aficionado appreciating Bertrand Russell, and there was a political historian awed by Niall Ferguson. A couple of sports biographies and self-help books rounded off the rest.

So now you know.


Veena said...

Your line is so boring. As to be expected. Plus you are way too scientific about this :)

bill said...

Does Angad do his homework as religiously?

Fëanor said...

Veena: Ever the geek, what to do? I suspect that the ones who read are generally in the middle and end compartments: the travellers in the front are the go-getters who are straining at the leash to be the first out at Bank or London Bridge and are too alpha to read, or the really lazy ones (like me), who don't feel like battling the crowds or walking too much up the platform at the destination, and so are too lazy to read, too.

Bill: if he doesn't, I'll be doing it, eh?

C K said...


I carry the Wall Street Journal everyday and make it a point to scan through its pages while I'm in the Underground - just in case there might be someone taking note of what Tube commuters are reading. :)

Fëanor said...

CK: Beware. The paper to read in the City is FT, not WSJ :-)

V Ramesh said...

no one was sleeping ...

Fëanor said...

Ramesh: City types don't sleep. It's all that adrenaline and testosterone sloshing about, no doubt.

Shefaly said...

Nice effort but I have questions.

Doesn't it rather depend on what time of day this survey was taken? Or did you do both evening and morning rounds? How do the two compare? Or are you reporting only aggregate data? If so, is that not misleading?

I also disagree with your comment to Veena. The go-getters know, which coach to get in to align themselves with the 'Way Out' and that coach is rarely the first (one exception I know is the Bakerloo line at Charing Cross). So the correlation you cite is not only false but also a very weak one since you generalise from self-referencing.

From an internal validity perspective: did you count e-books? Or those who may be listening to audio books on their iPods?

Serious doubt-raising over, Fëanor, my friend, you delight me with your dedication to nerdiness. For this, it seems at least a coffee will be in order. I shall be around Liverpool Street rather a lot in the next couple weeks. Will ping you.

Shefaly said...

I had to ask - is it _so_ bad that you shorten it to WC line and W&C line? Does it stink? Or run out of water? ;-)

Fëanor said...

Shefaly: I'm afraid the WC line is like a drain, the most painful in the entire Underground. Hence the abbreviation. And I took samples of the readership in the morning and in the evening. They didn't differ - hence the aggregation. The front carriage where I sit is also the one nearest the Way Out - at Bank (at Waterloo, the first and last coaches coincide with the exits). So you can't cavil too much at my methods :)

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed with your survey, especially the breakdown:) I wish I could also make a list everytime I commute, but I'm usually squashed between someone's armpit and another's derriere.

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