Why do people stop reading books?

Reading: Sobering study: the desire to read is dwindling

The stands are full, readers leaf through the lavish book catalogs, thousands of new publications from the publishers are touted: Anyone who strolls through industry events such as the Leipzig Book Fair might think that the book market is booming as ever. But the stacks of books only partially hide the fact that the industry is not doing really well.

Between 2012 and 2016, the German book trade lost 6.1 million book buyers. This corresponds to a buyer loss of 17 percent in this period. This is the result of a study commissioned by the German Book Trade Association. The decline mainly affects the young (14 to 29 years) and middle age group (30 to 59 years), regardless of the level of education. Less than half of the population in Germany even appears as book buyers.

Fewer and fewer Germans are buying books

The motto of the upcoming Leipzig Book Fair "Book ahead" seems more like a tired smile. Big industry party sounds different. Because not only are there fewer buyers; Fewer and fewer Germans pick up a book at least once a week (42 percent). As a basis for social discourse, it seems to have had its day in many cases. In any case, there is no guarantee that a new book will not quickly degenerate into a dust collector on the shelf.

The fact that the large drop in buyers did not come to the surface for so long was due to the fact that sales figures were relatively stable until recently. Because the study by the Börsenverein shows: The remaining buyers buy more and more expensive books. However, the negative trend in 2017 was also reflected in sales for the first time, which fell by two percent.

But is that why you write off the lost buyers? This is out of the question for Alexander Skipis, Managing Director of the German Book Trade Association: "Recovering lost buyers is one of the most important tasks for us." Whether the book is in print or as an e-book does not play a decisive role: The share of e-books in total sales has been consistently low for years at around five percent.

Digital media have played a major role in this development

The reason for the decline in buyers is the changed everyday life of people. Reader surveys by the Börsenverein have shown that people are more and more stressed in their free time and can hardly concentrate on a job for more than ten minutes. For Alexander Skipis, digital media, which require people to be continuously accessible, have played a large part in this development. As online communication and entertainment such as video streaming become increasingly important, the importance of the book is diminishing.

There does not seem to be a perfect solution to prevent the dilemma from getting any bigger: "What we don't want is a confrontation with modern media," says Skipis. Rather, it is about emphasizing the advantages of books: that they can be an oasis of calm in our multitasking society and serve as reliable sources of knowledge and information.

That someone decides to buy a book in a bookstore and doesn't just leaf through the flood of new publications at random, it now takes a lot more than an attractive cover and a nice blurb. Skipis admits that even the mass of new publications can overwhelm the reader. Around 90,000 titles appear in Germany each year as new or first editions.

Marketing is particularly important

For Alexander Skipis, the local bookseller is therefore more important than ever. In the best case, he knows the reader personally and can give him differentiated recommendations that go beyond the algorithm of online trading. "The key to stopping the decline in buyers is emotionalizing the book and reading," says Skipis. In concrete terms: a book has to reach the hearts of customers, has to trigger something at the first encounter in the store. The potential reader should quickly recognize which reading situation the book could bring him into, whether it is suitable for entertaining hours, for example.

Against this background, it can also be explained why the supporting program of bookstores and book fairs is bursting at the seams. Readings, themed weeks and lectures are intended to bring the printed book closer to the reader emotionally. As a result, the publishers' marketing machines are being driven more and more. The core of the book, namely the role as a social medium for reflection, threatens to be lost in view of all the rescue attempts.