Portraits of Readership in Brazil: Is Reading on the Decline?

The third edition of the survey Retratos da Leitura no Brasil (Portraits of Readership in Brazil), the most important study on readership and readers’ behavior in Brazil, revealed that Brazilians read 4.1 books per year on average. However, of those 4.1, 2 are read only in part.

The survey, which interviewed 5,012 people in 315 Brazilian cities in June and July of 2011, also shows that the country has 88.2 million “readers” — people who read at least one book, or parts of a book — in the three months prior to the poll. That amounts to 50% of the population over the age of five years old. Retratos da Leitura is conducted by Ibope Inteligencia and commissioned by Instituto Pró-Livro, an institute created and supported by the main trade organizations in the publishing industry for promoting readership.

Decline Since Last Survey

Both the number of readers and of books read represent a decline in comparison to the previous edition of the survey conducted in 2007. At that time, the study found that Brazilians read 4.7 books a year and that 95.6 million people, or 55% of the population, were readers.

This time, the survey didn’t disclose how many books were read by choice and how many were read to meet a school requirement. In 2007, only 1.3 book were read by choice. The margin of error in both polls is 1.4 percentage points.

The current figures come as a disappointment in a country which has been fighting against historical educational problems and high illiteracy rates. However, changes between 2007 and 2011 in the methodology applied in the survey made it hard to draw definite conclusions about how readership has evolved.

In the third edition of Retratos da Leitura, the interviews started with the question of how many books had been read, while in the previous edition they began with questions about the value of reading. Also, the definition of “book” was emphasized more in the third edition, stressing, for example, that the concept excluded manuals, catalogues or comics.

According to Helio Gastaldi, director of Ibope Inteligencia, the difference in the order of the questions may have contributed to the reduction in the number of readers in Brazil. The explanation would be that people tended to be more honest in the 2011 survey, since they hadn’t already been influenced by the questions about the importance of reading. To Karine Pansa, president of Câmara Brasileira do Livro, the main publishers’ association in Brazil, and founder of Instituto Pró-Livro, the 2007 and 2011 results are not totally comparable due to the changes made.

Sales Still Growing

But, according to her, Retratos da Leitura may show more that books are not being read even though their sales have been growing in the past years. From 2009 to 2010, book sales grew 2.1% to R$3.4 billion, and the number of copies sold increased by 11.3%. From 2008 to 2009, those rates of growth were 4.3% and 8.1% respectively — figures include trade and government sales, and are part of the annual survey commissioned by CBL and conducted by Fipe. “On the production side, the publishers’ side, there is growth. Also, the government, a key player in the industry, is buying more books. Libraries and schools have them. What the survey may indicate is that people are simply not reading more,” Pansa says.

Reading comes as the seventh most-preferred leisure activity for Brazilians, after watching TV, listening to music and going out with friends, among others. Although people read more magazines and newspapers than books (53% and 48%, compared to 47%), books come before online texts, work texts, comics and also e-books — which are only read by 4% of readers — among other materials. The main reasons why non-readers did not read in the three months prior to the survey were: lack of time (53%), lack of interest (30%) and preference for other activities (21%), among nine other reasons.

The survey emphasizes the important influence of schools on readership rates. Most people between the ages of 5 and 24 years old are readers, while most in the segment from 25 to 70 years old not. Students read an average of 6.2 books a year (compared to 7.2 in 2007), while people not in school school read 2.3 (compared to 3.4 in 2007).

The level of education attained and income are also key factors, together with the influence of teachers and family. To view both ends of the spectrum, those with university degrees read an average of 7.7 books a year, while people who have only completed primary school read 2.5. In terms of income, people who earn more than ten times the minimum wage (currently R$ 622,73) read 8.6 books a year, while those who earn the minimum wage or less read 2.7.

You can download the complete presentation (in Portuguese) here.

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