Print books, e-books and audiobooks: reading for pleasure dominates

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In France, fans of reading do so primarily for pleasure. Almost 9 out of 10 readers enjoy literary works, whether in print, digital, or audio book format. In the digital age, young adults are increasingly interested in digital books whose format is suited to life on the move. This consumption bears similarities to other digital cultural practices, for example video and music. We analyse these practices in detail through the results of the 10thBarometer of e-book and audiobook consumption conducted in January 2020 by Médiamétrie on behalf of the author’s collecting society in France, SOFIA (Société Française des Intérêts des Auteurs de l’écrit), France’s association of publishers, the SNE (Syndicat National de l’édition) and the SGDL writers’ association (Société des Gens de Lettres de France).


9 out of 10 French people read books, whether in print, digital or audio versions

Reading is a well-established pastime in France: 9 out of 10 people read books. And whilst the majority of them choose the printed page, many readers also now enjoy e-books and audiobooks. 

According to Bertrand Lissillour, Médiamétrie's Director of Research and Clientele who conducted the Barometer under the direction of SOFIA, SGDL, and the SNE: “Although over half (56%) of the population only ever read printed books, readers have really adopted the newer practices, forming a bridge between the different reading formats. As such, practically everyone who reads digital content already reads printed books. Fans of the printed page experiment with different ways of reading to a lesser extent: just over a quarter of print book readers (27%) have already read an e-book. Finally, more than 1 in 10 people (11%) read books regardless of the format.”

Similar to other digital practices, digital reading is more common among young people. For example, more than a third of the 15 to 24 age group have already read an e-book. In general, readers of digital formats (average age = 43.2) are younger than the population as a whole (47.9 years) and also younger than print book readers (48.4 years). However, they are older than audiobook readers (40.3 years).


A love for paper and practicality steering reading habits

Readers of print books include the most avid readers and almost a quarter of them read more than 20 books each year (23%). The figure for e-book readers is 17%. Incidentally, the average library of a print reader contains 256 books. E-book readers possess 119 books. Digital audiobook listeners own an average of ten titles whilst the figure for physical audiobooks is five.

We should note that women and seniors fit the profiles that devote the greatest daily time to reading print or digital books (40 minutes).

When devouring books, in the main, readers prefer to be at home, whether they are reading print (63%) or digital books (49%). Holidays represent a great opportunity to read for two thirds of printed book readers and for 44% of e-book readers.

Digital books are more likely to be used on the daily commute (20%) and at work (12%) than printed books (16% and 7% respectively). Digital audiobooks are particularly suitable for reading on the go: 23% listen whilst using transport systems, 17% during the daily commute.

One particular feature of digital book reading is their availability across several devices. Smartphones come top of the list, in line with a younger audience: 42% of readers use them to read books. This is even more pronounced among the 15 to 24 years old age group (69%). 1 out of 3 readers use a tablet (43% of those aged 50 and older) and 28% use an e-reader (41% of those aged 50 and older). Smartphones also top the list for users of digital audiobooks, with 56% of users (69% of 15 to 24 year olds), followed by tablets (25%) and computers (23%). 45% of physical audiobook listeners use their laptop.

Choosing to read a book in its digital version is above all related to practicality: 37% of those asked felt that digital books were easier to carry. The next factors were price (33% of people), followed by ease of storage and acquisition.

Lovers of paper books think that digital books are less pleasant to read (54%) and stated a preference for printed books in every case (51%).

Digital reading approximates to other digital cultural practices

Considering consumption methods, in several respects, digital reading shows similarities with other digital cultural practices, such as video and music. This is true for acquisition, place of purchase and pricing. Bertrand Lissillour gave this analysis: “Since digital readers tend to be younger, they repeat their digital habits more spontaneously in the reading universe.” Whereas 26% of French people have already resorted to using an illegal cultural product (books, music, video games, etc.), only 5% of the French have already done so to obtain (digital or digital audio) books. The main reason they give is the cost-free aspect, whilst non-users cite respect for copyright.

In general, digital books or audiobooks are cheaper to buy than print versions: 53% of printed books are bought for between 10 and 20 euros. 46% of digital books cost under 5 euros. The figures for digital audiobooks and physical audiobooks are 38% and 42% respectively.

Readers go to different sellers depending on the type of book they are purchasing: readers of e-books mainly buy their books via digital platforms (61%), followed by reading apps (38%) and specialist retailer apps (35%). Listeners of physical audiobooks prefer specialist retailers (46%) and bookshops (33%). For listeners of digital audiobooks, major digital platforms again dominate (59%), followed by websites of specialist retailers (45%). When purchasing printed books, readers prefer specialist retailers (74%), followed by bookshops (61%) and commercial websites (45%).

The subscription principle is similar to systems that exist for video and music: 20% of digital book readers subscribe to a digital book service. Furthermore, 25% of digital audiobook listeners subscribe to a service. There is real potential for these services given that 1 out of 3 non-subscribers have expressed an interest in subscribing.

Bertrand Lissillour concluded: “The study shows that whatever the format used, reading is above all a moment of pleasure, and its fans will choose the best channel to realise their wishes according to the time, place and their needs.”

Geoffroy Pelletier, Director of the Société Française des Intérêts des Auteurs de l’écrit (SOFIA), added: “Over the course of these 10 editions of the Barometer, we have seen an evolution in user practices that has given greater space to digital – and now audio – usage, without ever abandoning paper books. Today, it is certainly true to call these practices complementary. The next edition, post-lockdown, will also contain many lessons.”


Laure Osmanian Molinero

Confidence interval calculus

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