Inaugural National Reading Survey highlights the important role of libraries for the Australian book industry

Canberra, 24 November 2021: The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) welcomes the release of the inaugural Australia Reads National Reading Survey exploring how Australians read, borrow and buy books and how this has—and hasn’t—changed during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021.

 The report highlights the role of libraries as trusted sources of information and gateways to book access within the community. Data from the survey shows that along with booksellers and book reviewers, librarians are the most commonly trusted sources for book recommendations after family and friends.

 Libraries, local independent booksellers and Australian online retailers were also ranked the easiest place to find specific books, with 45% of general and 63% of engaged readers describing their experience of finding their item an easy one. Libraries were also identified as an affordable and sustainable way to access books for readers who can’t afford to buy all the books they want to read.

 A proportion of both surveyed groups (10% general and 13% engaged readers) reported that they bought their own copy of a book first borrowed from the library, supporting the idea that the relationship between publishers and libraries can be one of mutual reinforcement. According to ALIA CEO Sue McKerracher, the fact that book borrowers are book buyers too is already well understood within the sector: ‘Some people want to “try before you buy”, others love the borrowed books so much they go out and buy it for their own collection. We know that libraries and booksellers have a symbiotic relationship and when we host author talks in libraries, more often than not there’s a pile of signed books ready for people to purchase.’

 The National Reading Survey is part of Australia Read’s broader mission to get more Australians reading more books, more often and to come up with new ways of engaging readers and improving the industry’s ability to support the people who create Australian books.

 The survey of over 3,000 general and engaged readers offers insights into our book buying, borrowing and reading behaviour: our motivations, how frequently we read, the most popular formats and categories, how and when we find the time to read, and how we make to decisions about what to read next.

 It also gives detail on the impact of the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 on readers and booksellers. Contrary to what seems to be a common belief, most people’s reading habits did not change as a result of the pandemic with a significant majority of both survey groups (63% general and 48% engaged readers) indicating they had read the same number of books overall during the pandemic as previously.

 Beyond the pandemic, the survey reveals that the longevity and sustainability of the local book industry is significantly impacted by the growing number of Australians who don’t read books at all, the ever-growing popularity of TV subscription services, reluctant enthusiasm for Australian originated content, and the perception that books are “too expensive”.

The full report is available on request from [email protected] and key findings will be made available on the Australia Reads website.