Canadian book count tracks increase in reading

A recent snapshot of national reading habits shows that Canadians continue to be avid readers, whether they're consuming print books or e-books.

First time e-book sales counted in tally

Whether e-books or print editions, Canadians continue to be avid readers, according to a recent snapshot of national book consumption. (John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

A recent snapshot of national reading habits shows that Canadians continue to be avid readers, whether they're consuming print books or e-books.

The National Reading Campaign — a coalition that includes readers, writers, publishers, librarians, book retailers and educators — released on Thursday details of its 2012 National Book Count: a one-week peek into the country's appetite for books.

For this second edition, book sales and public library circulation information were tallied for the week of January 23-29 to represent a typical week of book consumption.

"Canadians have always been extremely passionate readers, certainly when you compare Canada to other countries. It's something we don't brag about a lot... but I think it's a huge accomplishment for the country," Jamie Broadhurst, a NRC spokesman and vice-president of marketing for Raincoast Books, told CBC News.

"One of the goals for the National Reading Campaign is to preserve this heritage — this passion for reading — to make sure that the next generation falls in love with reading the way that Canadians have in previous generations."

During the week examined in January, the group discovered that:

  • 3.4 million books were sold or circulated (or about five books per second)
  • 1.15 million print books were sold by retailers, both national chains and more than 260 independent bookstores across Canada
  • 111,053 English-language e-books were sold
  • 2.1 million print books were borrowed from 28 participating library systems (covering more than 13.7 million people)
  • 63,196 e-books were downloaded from the participating library systems

This year is the first time organizers have counted e-book sales and the fact that they represented about 10 per cent of all books sold in English Canada during the snapshot week was a positive development, Broadhurst said.

English-language print book sales are still strong, increasing four cent over 2011's National Book Count figures, and the adoption of digital doesn't seem to be "cannibalizing" print sales, he added.

"We're agnostic on the issue. We're completely neutral," Broadhurst quipped. "I could care less if whether someone is reading on a tablet [computer] or a clay tablet or a print book. However they choose to read is exciting for me."

That strong e-books sales figure also seems to place Canada among the international markets where e-books usage is the highest.

According to a study released at January's Digital BookWorld publishing and technology industry conference in New York, the top three e-books reading countries are the U.S. (20 per cent penetration), South Korea (14.5 per cent) and the U.K. (seven per cent).

There are "certain sectors of the Canadian population who don't benefit from the joys of reading to the same degree — First Nations people, new Canadians, Canadians of lower economic status. The goal of the campaign is to make sure that reading is central to all Canadian lives. We truly believe that it can make a huge difference to the civic quality of life in Canada," said Broadhurst.

He cited the widespread fervour for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels — Raincoast was the Canadian publisher of the blockbuster series — as a prime example of how Canadians can share a collective appetite for reading.

The campaign's thrust is to ensure that reading continues to play a central role in the lives of Canadians. NRC stakeholders, government and book industry representatives will join book-loving members of the public in Vancouver for a summit on May 2-4 to discuss and finalize a national reading strategy, which is slated to roll out in the fall.