Hong Kong reading habits a mixture of fact and fiction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 5:59am

The internet is changing our way of life as much as our habits and culture. With a world of information and entertainment a simple click away, book reading has become a rare and treasured activity. True, some people do still read regularly, but evidence of a shrinking reading population is everywhere. For instance, commuters, instead of burying themselves in a book or newspaper, are more likely to be fiddling with electronic gadgets these days. Borrowings from public libraries are on the decline.

However, the annual book fair held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre tells a different story. The seven-day event attracted a record crowd of more than one million, up from 980,000 last year. Buyers were also more willing to loosen their purse strings, with average per capita spending rising by a quarter to HK$987, according to a survey of 805 visitors.

People were also said to be reading just as much. Almost 99 per cent had read a printed book in the past month, spending an average of 30 hours reading, or an hour or so each day. If those numbers are anything to go by, Hongkongers appear to be avid book lovers.

That the Trade Development Council's signature event is often taken as an indicator of the city's strong appetite for books is understandable. It is no doubt a success in terms of visitor and exhibitor numbers. But whether it is indicative of general reading habits is another matter. Indeed, the strong turnout sits oddly with the findings of another survey by a reading group, in which nearly 60 per cent of the 1,000 respondents said they did not read at all. When asked to rate the propensity to read at a personal and city level on a scale of 10, the respective scores fell to a three-year low of 4.75 and 4.51.

A week-long book fair does not make a summer of reading. There are always those who go for bargain sales or autographs from celebrity authors. The impact of a book fair on reading is, after all, rather limited. It will take more efforts to foster a wider and deeper reading culture.