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Reading and Buying Books for Pleasure: 2005 National Survey

January 11, 200611 January 2006

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This January 2005 survey of almost 2,000 Canadians 16 and older shows that a vast majority of Canadians – 87% – read a book for pleasure in the past year. Over half of Canadians read books for pleasure “every day” or “almost every day”. On average, Canadians indicated that they read 17 books for pleasure in 2004.

Women, those with higher levels of education and Anglophones have higher reading rates than their demographic counterparts. The report shows that Francophones outside Quebec have a particularly low reading rate. The report also indicates that many low-educated Canadians read regularly. Other survey results relate to internet use and the number of owned books at home.

Contrary to a recent American report prepared by Hill Strategies Research, the Canadian Heritage survey indicates that reading rates have not changed since a similar 1991 study.

The survey findings show that the types of book read most often are: 1) mystery, suspense and adventure; 2) science fiction, fantasy and horror; and 3) romance. However, science fiction and romance books are also the types of books that the largest number of Canadians “would not consider reading”.

The most important sources of information about books are recommendations from friends, gifts, book reviews and advertisements.

About two-thirds of respondents had read at least one book by a Canadian author in the past year, but a similar percentage of respondents indicated that they were “not very” or “not at all” familiar with Canadian authors.

Ten percent of respondents read at least one electronic book, and the same percentage listened to an audio book in 2004.

Despite the fairly high reading rates, 62% of respondents agree that “book reading, as a leisure activity, is threatened in today’s society” and 40% indicate that “there are better things to do than read”. On the positive side, 82% of respondents agree that “good reading skills will become more important in the next decade”.

Thirty-five percent of respondents indicated that the internet is decreasing reading skills, while the same percentage indicated that the internet is improving reading skills. The remainder either indicated that the internet has no impact on reading skills or they did not know.

The high level of book reading is similar to the findings of a survey done for the Association for Canadian Studies (see Arts Research Monitor vol. 3, no. 1). That survey of 2,002 Canadians 18 or older showed that 85% of Canadians read at least one book in the six months prior to the survey (December 2002). However, the reading rate is much higher than might be expected from a recent adult literacy survey (see Arts Research Monitor vol. 4, no. 3), which showed that about 15% of Canadians scored in the lowest performance level on the prose reading scale, and another 27% scored in the second-lowest level.

The Canadian Heritage survey indicates that 81% of Canadians bought a book for pleasure in the past year, while a recent report on book spending, based on a broad consumer spending survey, showed that 48% of Canadian households purchased a book in 2001 (see below). According to the Canadian Heritage survey, the strongest factors in books purchase decisions are topic or type of book, the author, and the price. On average, respondents spent $147 on books in 2004.

The Canadian Heritage survey also shows that 40% of Canadians borrowed a book for leisure reading from a library in 2004, with an average of five visits each to a public library.

Much more detail on these and other indicators related to reading for pleasure are provided in the report and in the detailed statistical tables that are provided in an appendix.

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