A few weeks ago I was flicking through some of the old articles on the blog, when I came across the recap I wrote after attending last year’s Newcastle Writing Conference.
One of the points that jumped out at me came from a discussion on the state of the publishing industry, involving several agents, marketing people and a buyer from Waterstones book chain. When talking about the average reader’s book buying habits, the executive from Waterstones revealed how many books you have to buy in a year to be classed as a ‘heavy reader.’
How many do you think? 10? 20? 50 or more?
It was more than six.
That’s right, according to one of the largest book sellers in the country, to be a ‘heavy reader’ you only need to buy half a dozen books or so a year.
Of course, just because you’re only buying six books a year, doesn’t mean that is all you’re reading. Most dedicated book lovers get their fix wherever they can: they frequent the local library, pick up tattered paperbacks from charity shops, borrow from friends or download onto their e-reader. If you’re lucky enough to be part of an advance review programme or to run a book blog, then you might even get a regular supply of books for free from the publishers.
But ultimately, six books a year says something about the way society regards reading. Too many people associate it with school rather than something that can be fun and entertaining. They don’t understand the impulse to curl up with a novel, when you could be watching TV or playing on the computer.
It makes me sad to think half a dozen books a year is enough to make you a hard core bookworm, not only in the eyes of Waterstones, but probably also to those who rarely, if ever, read at all.
Thanks to the internet and modern media, we don’t have to work for our entertainment. We’re always surrounded by opportunities for a quick fix. And those things can provide a release at the end of a long day at work, whereas reading requires you to engage and process on a deeper level, leaving you to conjure up the images in your own mind rather than having them already packaged in front of you, ready for consumption.
Six books a year could mean a lot of things. I know that a lot of people only read on holiday. They grab a few paperbacks in the airport to enjoy on the beach, or they flick through the obligatory celebrity biographies they were gifted at Christmas. Perhaps they pick up the latest popular fiction along with their supermarket shop.
But maybe Waterstones are right, from their own perspective at least. I’ve read over 50 novels so far this year, but not very many of them have come from that particular shop. In fact, most of them have either been proof copies, which I’ve received for free, or downloaded via the Kindle app. So whilst I’m technically, what, a super max reader(!), I’m not actually contributing as heavily to the publishing industry in a financial sense, unlike those Waterstones shoppers who are probably paying full price for their new releases – maybe even in hardback.
So what does it really mean to be a heavy reader? Is it about the books we purchase, the ones we engage with or simply sheer volume?
And should these categorisations be about the readers themselves, or their interactions with a particular store?
All I know is, there are so many books out there that I’m desperate to read, I can’t imagine only choosing six a year.