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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Time to Read in a Fractured World

I'm not sure what some of the statistics in this article really mean but I do find it interesting that people in Europe seem to be reading more today than they did in the 1970s. That conclusion is pretty much the exact opposite of most of the doom and gloom news that I read about reading trends around the world.
Contrary to expectations it is books that are more popular, according to a team at the University of Manchester.

They analysed thousands of time-use diaries compiled for official census agencies in five countries in 1975 and again at the turn of the millennium.

One theory is books are ideal to fill gaps in people's schedules - and with busier lives there are more gaps.

Women increasingly are reading more than men. The number of people in the UK reading newspapers and magazines has declined, though those who do read them do so for longer.
...
There was a similar increase in Norway but the French far outstripped them - going from 10 minutes a day up to 18.

In the Netherlands there was a slight decline but from a higher base, from 13 minutes to 12 (1995 data). In the US the increase was two minutes, from five to seven.

One of the researchers, at Manchester's school of social sciences, Dale Southerton, said there was a popular perception that people were reading less but all reading had gone up, reading books had gone up the most - and there were 17% more people reading them.

Dr Southerton agreed that an explanation might be simply that books had become cheaper.
...
But a study in Holland had suggested that the more people's days were fragmented, the more they read, regardless of their educational background.

"Which is completely counter-intuitive but I don't see anything to contradict it."

Another study he had conducted had indicated that people felt they did not have enough time in their days.
All of that makes perfect sense if you think about it a little. As we find ourselves spending more and more time waiting in lines and sitting in waiting rooms, people have figured out that taking a book with them to help pass all that otherwise wasted time is one of the best ways to maintain sanity in the stop-and-go world that is ours today. I am a bit surprised that the minutes-per-day statistics are as low as they are, to be honest, but maybe they are a per capita rate that doesn't truly reflect the reading time of those who are actually doing the reading.

That aside, this study offers some encouraging news to booksellers and book fans alike. Books are holding their own in this electronic age, and that's a nice thing to see.
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