Canadians’ Reading Habits: BookNet Sees Smartphone Reading Rising

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Reading ranks fifth in BookNet Canada’s newest survey of respondents’ leisure activities, and smartphone reading is on the rise. Thirty-eight percent say their reading increased in the last year.

Image – iStockphoto: Anchly

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Equal Book Discovery Online and in Stores

When BookNet Canada looked at the results of this year’s free-time survey, the information coming in from their 750 respondents revealed that reading is their fifth most popular choice for a leisure-time activity.

It’s good to note that the 22 percent of answers favoring reading are related to reading books, because the leading choice of the surveyed group was browsing the Internet–which, of course, involves a good bit of reading except in pure-video 0r other visual environments.

Thirty-three percent of respondents chose online browsing as their favorite leisure-time activity, closely followed at 32 percent by “spending time with the family” and, at 31 percent, watching television. Watching a film (23 percent) and then reading (22 percent) were chosen as fourth and fifth preferences. (BookNet helpfully points out that respondents were allowed to choose two activities, so these percentages won’t add up to 100 percent.)

Administrators at BookNet are sanguine about a gentle decline in percentages since 2014 in answer to the question “have you read a book in the last year?”

In 2014, 88 percent of the Canadians surveyed told BookNet they’d read a book in the last year. This winter, when surveyed, 82 percent had the same answer.

“While the percentage of people who say they have read a book in the past year has been trending down slightly since 2014, the numbers are only barely outside the margin of error,” BookNet’s report reads.

And how about the amount of reading Canadians surveyed say they’ve been doing in the last year? Here, the response is more upbeat. While 44 percent said books they’d read (or listened to) had stayed the same in the previous 12 months, 38 percent of those asked have told BookNet that their reading increased in the last year.

“This is up almost 5 percent over the previous year,” writes the BookNet staff. “Also, those reporting that their reading has decreased from the previous year went down by 3 percent from 20 to 17 percent.”

Reading Habits: Devices and Discoverability

In a follow-up assessment of survey data, BookNet looks at several aspects of Canadians’ reading habits. Of particular interest here is input on format and device preferences and on how Canadians say they’re discovering their books.

In terms of format, audiobooks continue to show strength in the Canadian consumer market as they do in the US and UK markets. “There are more readers between the ages of 18 and 44 who listened to an audiobook last year,” write the report’s authors, “than those who read a print book or those who read an ebook.

“The reading habits of 45- to 54-year-olds, meanwhile, are distributed more evenly over the formats–with print books bringing up the rear. Readers who are 55+ tend to favor print books over ebooks and do much less listening of audiobooks.”

What might be partly “the Wattpad effect” shows up when BookNet looks at device preferences for digital reading.

“The use of smartphones for ebook reading has increased by more than 6 percent over the last year to 20 percent,” the report says. “This has mostly been at the expense of e-readers (23 percent), which are down by 5 percent since last year.”

As many in publishing know, 90 percent of Toronto-based Wattpad’s 55 million monthly users are engaging with the platform on mobile devices. It would be interesting to know how much the popularity of Wattpad in its native Canada might have on smartphone usage for reading.

What will catch the attention of marketers is the even split on discoverability registered by BookNet in its survey between online and brick-and-mortar stores. Thirty-eight percent of discovery, respondents tell the organization, goes to browsing in physical stores, while exactly the same portion, 38 percent, of discovery is accomplished in browsing online–perhaps the result of all that leisure time spent in online browsing.

Word of mouth remains the biggest influence cited by respondents, at 50 percent, with libraries coming in with a hefty 30 percent of credit for book discovery–the same as various social media, also coming in at 30 percent. Print or news magazines seem to be fading fast as a place readers might discover books, only 13% of respondents in Canada saying they’d found books that way. Online communities such as Goodreads show more pull, at 21 percent.  (Again, this is a case in which respondents were allowed to select more than one answer, so don’t look for the numbers to add up to 100 percent.)

“The majority of readers, 91 percent, participate in social media,” BookNet reports. “Over half of readers (55 percent) say they participate in an online book community and/or social media and 50 percent say they discuss books they’ve read online.”

More research and analysis information from BookNet Canada is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.