Dog-Eared and Dispatched
Salutations, literary citizens! In this week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture, it’s all about studies, statistics, and surveys. We begin by exploring two revolutions in reading pertaining to mobile devices and men, respectively. Following these stories, we investigate how state sales taxes are throwing a wrench in Amazon’s plans for world domination. This week’s footnotes are many and diverse, ranging from TIME’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People” to the U.K. study that puts happiness levels when visiting the library on par with receiving a pay raise. Ready. Set. Read!
A recent study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), titled “Reading in the Mobile Era,” suggests that “mobile technology can advance literacy and learning in underserved communities around the world.” The study includes more than 4,000 surveys and interviews with citizens of seven developing countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. In addition to calling attention to the rate of illiteracy worldwide—the UNESCO calculates that “774 million adults and 123 million children around the world can’t read or write”—the study paid particular attention to reading acquisition in relation to book accessibility: “In Japan, where 99 percent of people can read and write, there is 1 library for every 47,000 people; in Nigeria, by contrast, the ratio is 1 library to 1,350,000 people.” Lack of access to reading materials is a monumental barrier to overcome and, as is clear from statistics like this, often related to a host of social, cultural, and economic factors. Mobile devices may offer the chance to level the playing field a bit, however. In particular, the UNESCO’s study highlighted seven key findings: “1) Mobile reading opens up new pathways to literacy for marginalized groups, particularly women and girls, and others who may not have access to paper books; 2) People use mobile devices to read to children, thereby supporting literacy acquisition and other forms of learning; 3) People seem to enjoy reading more and read more often when they use mobile devices to access text; 4) People read on mobile devices for identifiable reasons that can be promoted to encourage mobile reading; 5) Most mobile readers are young, yet people of various ages are capable of using mobile technology to access long-form reading material. More can be done to encourage older people to use technology as a portal to text; 6) Current mobile readers tend to have completed more schooling than is typical; and 7) There appears to be a demand for mobile reading platforms with text in local languages, level-appropriate text, and text written by local authors.” In addition to these critical discoveries, the study found romance and religion to be the most popular genres read on mobile devices. The study was completed with the assistance of Worldreader, a global non-profit organization dedicated to ending illiteracy worldwide, and Nokia. [UNESCO, Mobylives, The Guardian]
Hot on the heels of the UNESCO’s report, a study by The Reading Agency found that, out of the 2,000 British men and women surveyed, “63 percent of men admit they don’t read as much as they think they should” and often would rather watch the big screen version of a book. According to The Bookseller, “Researchers found that being too busy, not enjoying reading, and preferring to spend their spare time on the internet means men read fewer books, read more slowly, and are less likely to finish them than women.” Key findings from the study included the following statistics: “1) Nearly 75 percent of men said they would opt for the film or TV adaptation of a book, while the same percentage of women would read the book; 2) Women are more likely to have bought or borrowed a book this year, with more visiting bookshops, libraries, supermarket book aisles and online retailers than men; 3) 46 percent of men surveyed are reading fewer books now than they did in the past, a third prefer the Internet, and 30 percent engage more with film and TV; 4) One in five men confessed they have pretended to have read a specific title in order to appear more intelligent; and 5) Almost 30 percent of men admit that they haven’t really picked up a book since they were obliged to at school.” According to author Andy McNab, it’s a matter of consistency: “When I joined the Army straight out of juvenile detention, I had the reading age of an 11-year-old, and I meet kids at the schools where I’m doing talks who are just the same. We have got to keep these boys reading because once they stop, they never start again. It doesn’t matter what they read, we just need to get them into the habit of it and then keep them doing it.” Author Matt Haig thinks it also has a lot to do with marketing: “The danger is that the fewer books men buy, the less incentive publishers and booksellers will have to reach out of them. And so the heavily-promoted novels will increasingly become aimed squarely at the most likely group of readers: women. And so it becomes a vicious circle.” The study was conducted as part of World Book Night, with Reading Agency CEO Sue Wilkinson noting that this year’s selection of World Book Night titles—20 in total—was compiled with reluctant male readers in mind. This list of books includes both Haig’s The Human (Simon and Schuster, 2013) and McNab’s Today Everything Changes (Corgi, 2013). [The Bookseller, ShelfAwareness, The Guardian]
Has Amazon’s Achilles heel finally been found? Like the tiny flea that ended Alexander III of Macedon’s vie for world domination, will it be the small state sales tax that brings down the mammoth online retailer? Likely not, and yet a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research and Ohio State University has noted a decrease in purchases among Amazon customers who live in locations where online sales tax is applicable. Specifically, the NBER has reported an average decrease of 9.5% in Amazon buys among households within California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia—five states in which an Amazon sales taxes is being collected. This drop in sales was even greater for bigger ticket items. But just who are buyers turning to as they say “adios” to Amazon? According to the study, other online retailers have witnessed a 19.8 percent increase in purchases, while brick-a-mortar sales have increased by 2 percent. From this, the NBER has concluded that, “to a small degree, the tax legislation achieved its objective of restoring retail activity to local communities, though most of the gains in ‘leveling the playing field’ are garnered by the online operations of retailers . . . Households substitute Amazon with other retailers: either online retailers who are exempt from collecting sales tax, or in-state retailers (online and brick-and-mortar).” The Consumerist’s Chris Morran expanded on this deduction by stating, “Tax collection does seem to have the effect of increasing competition in the marketplace, but it’s not necessarily driving consumers to go back to the mom and pop stores that once filled Main Streets of the country—unless mom and pop also happen to have a good e-commerce aspect to their operation.” According to OSU researchers, states without an online sales tax are losing an estimated $23 billion a year. [NBER, Shelf Awareness, The Consumerist, Mobylives]
1. TIME’s annual list of “The 100 Most Influential People” in the world includes several notable literary citizens, including bestselling YA author John Green, Pulitzer Prize author Donna Tartt, and acclaimed Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina.
2. Are enhanced ebooks a game-changer in the world of academics? Emory Professor Jacob L. Wright thinks so, and he’s put his theory to the test within the production of his newest scholarly work, David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory.
3. Although World Book Night officially took place on April 23, the long list of celebrations kicked off this Monday, April 21. Catch-up on what’s been going on and activities still to come.
4. The court has denied Apple’s latest request for a stay as well as the company’s bid to have their damages trial removed from Judge Denise Cote’s jurisdiction. The trial date currently stands at July 14, having been pushed back from May last week.
5. Is “Amazon” poised to become a popular verb choice in similar fashion to “Google”? Melville House explores the issue, crafting possible definitions and sample sentences.
6. Kobo let go of 63 of its employees this week. Yet, like B&N, the company continues to convey perplexing optimism.
7. Graphic designer Dinah Fried brings literary delicacies to life in her book, Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals.
8. In her typically witty and winsome fashion, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Kate DiCamillo has called on members of the literary community—authors, readers, and everyone in between—to partake in Children’s Book Week by visiting their favorite local independent bookstore on Saturday, May 17.
9. God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines has spurred controversy among conservative media this week, prompting (among other commentary) a satirical discussion of publishing ethics.
10. Is the serialized novel set for a comeback? Storybird’s new longform format may be anticipating this turn in trend.
11. According to a happiness study conducted by the U.K.’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport, going to the library increases one’s sense of wellbeing in a manner equivalent to a $2,282 raise.