Britain among Europe's leaders in book buying

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The Independent Online
BRITONS are keener on reading than most of their European neighbours, except the Germans. This is one of the findings of a 10- year survey of the UK book trade published yesterday.

The Publishers Association Trade Year Book for 1992 shows that 55 per cent of people in the UK read at least one book a month, compared with 32 per cent in France, while at best only one in five Italians say they read four books a year.

'International comparisons indicate there is more regular reading in the UK than in Ireland, France, Italy or (more marginally) in the Netherlands,' Dr Frederick Fishwick, the report's author, says.

He says that only Germany has higher levels, with 67 per cent reading at least one book a month, although this data does not include the former East Germany. Only 34 per cent of Irish people questioned said they were currently reading a book.

The survey shows that Britons spend pounds 43 a head on books annually, compared with pounds 37 for the French, pounds 32 for the Dutch, pounds 57 for the Germans and pounds 51 for the Americans.

This helps explain why the domestic British book industry is surprisingly healthy and has maintained sales during the recession.

The report says there has been a 35 per cent real growth in domestic sales over the past decade with the market worth pounds 2.52bn last year. Prices have tended to keep pace with increases in the cost of living.

Dr Fishwick says that expenditure on books has risen faster than spending on other leisure pursuits such as magazines, newspapers and videos. This is in contrast to America where books have not stood up so well to competition.

The report identifies school textbooks, which are heavily dependent on public spending and the volatile export market, as a black spot. Educational books, including those used in schools and higher education, saw an 11 per cent real decline between 1985 and 1990.

There has also been an 18 per cent drop in the number of books being taken out from UK public libraries over the past 10 years, although Britons still use libraries more than people in Germany, Ireland or France.

On a positive note one of the fastest growth areas has been children's books: sales of books per child rose by 35 per cent between 1981 and 1985, and a further 28 per cent between 1985 and 1990. In 1990 an average pounds 35.14 a year was spent on books per child.