Letter: Booking a future role for Britain's public libraries

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your articles on cultural trends (2 March) almost certainly paint too rosy a picture of the book trade. Britain's definitive survey of book buying and reading habits, Books and the Consumer, has shown a fall in consumer purchases of books in 1992, so that the volume of books bought is now about 10 per cent down from 1991 and around 6 per cent lower than it was in 1990. Although the number of people buying books has hardly changed since 1989, with about 80 per cent of adults buying in any one year, the average number they purchase has fallen to less than 17, from 18.5 in 1990.

It is true that the gift market is important - about 40 per cent of books are bought for other people - but the number of people who think paperbacks represent very good value for money has fallen from 30 to 24 per cent between 1989 and 1992, while the hardback figure has remained at around 22 per cent.

There are many reasons why library borrowings are down, some of which you mention - though you exclude a squeeze on opening hours - but it is worth noting that around 56 per cent of adults have a ticket, of whom half borrow books at least once a month: these proportions have not changed since 1989. Although average spend rose in 1991-92 compared to 1990-91, the value rise was only 2 per cent - which implies a fall in number of books bought or the purchase of a greater proportion of cheaper books.

Yours faithfully,

LESLIE HENRY

Research Director

Book Marketing Limited

London, WC1

3 March

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