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Turning non-readers into readers

20 April 2009

Recent rather disturbing figures have revealed that there is a potential market of 20 million potential readers in the UK who do not read books. In the US a recent survey revealed that one in four Americans didn't read a single book last year. So who are these huge potential markets and can anything be done to activate them?

The UK figures came as part of some research conducted at the end of National Year of Reading by the project, HarperCollins and the Trade Publishers Council. The survey was conducted amongst the C2DE socio-economic group, characterised as lower income, non-professional families, or what used to be defined as working class and lower middle class.

These families saw books as alien and unattractive. Crucially, reading is seen as an anti-social activity for loners and as such has little place in a culture centred around family, work and sporting groups. Bookshops are felt to be alien and intimidating.

Honor Wilson, the National Year of Reading Director, said: 'These are good solid families who don't have literacy problems but who just don't read. They are one step away from book-buying, they do consume lots of leisure products and may have up to 300 DVDs in the house. But intentionally or otherwise, a lot of people in the book world are conveying the impression that reading is associated with a particular area of society and lifestyle.'

The schools may bear some of the blame for this, as they are focused on literacy, rather than enjoyment of books, as the goal. Of course literacy is an essential prerequisite of reading books, but encouraging children to read for pleasure, not just for literacy, ought to be a crucial part of the schools' role.

The annual output of new titles in the US is soaring towards half a million at the same time as the survey quoted above revealed that one in four Americans didn't read a single book last year. On both sides of the Atlantic, and in many other parts of the world, celebrity biographies are becoming increasingly popular and non-writers - pop stars, chefs, sports personalities - are increasingly dominating the bestseller lists.

Lest we despair, another survey recently found some interesting growth in the UK book club, or reading group, numbers, which have doubled over the past year. This is however the converted, as people who join book groups can be assumed to be members of the heavy reader group.

This survey also revealed that 44% of children claimed they would rather be reading books than speaking to their friends on social networking sites, reading magazines, using Twitter or blogging. Let's hope this is a truthful answer, as it gives hope that young people are becoming readers, but it has to be said that it contradicts the evidence which seems all around us - which is that children and young people are increasingly spending their leisure time on many things other than books.

But perhaps the non-readers are writing instead of reading? In another survey for World Book Day undertaken by Sky Arts' "The Book Show", it was revealed that 56% of people would like to write a book, with most women (18%) wanting to write crime/thriller or mystery and most men (20%) wanting to write sci fi and fantasy.

11% of those asked also revealed that they have written a book but not yet had it published. Now this is a number that visitors to this site may be able to identify with...