Printed page loses out to electronic media
A national survey conducted by the China Institute of Publishing Sciences shows that, although book consumption has increased, the number of Chinese who read books and magazines fell to 51.7 per cent in 2003, 8.7 percentage points down from 1998. Only about 5 per cent of the population are thought to be habitual book readers.
People seem to be giving up their pursuit of knowledge.
But a careful look at the results suggests there is no need to get too worried. The decline in reading books and magazines just reflects a changing lifestyle in this ever-developing world when the access to information is no longer limited to printed publications.
Busy lifestyles are a major reason for this loss of book reading.
More than 80 per cent of those who do not read say that they are just too busy to read books.
However, one piece of good news is that the number of people with reading difficulties has declined by 8.7 per cent since 1999, and literacy in China is not now thought to be a problem.
What's more, the different channels to information have taken some of the printed publications' market share and their readers.
Television, newspapers and books still rank the top three in the media list that have the biggest audiences, according to the survey. But compared with five years ago, VCDs and DVDs have risen from sixth to fourth place and the Internet has jumped to seventh from the bottom, while magazines have slumped to fifth.
More and more people admit that they are turning to the Internet, instead of newspapers and the radio, for news.
The Internet has attracted an increasing number of people by providing more information in a faster and more convenient way. It saves people travelling to libraries, combing the shelves and having to scan entire books for information.
The survey said 18.3 per cent of people now read online, compared with 3.7 per cent in 1998. The rate must be much higher among the younger generation.
Such a change is global.
Reading fewer books and magazines does not mean people are learning less. They simply have more choice.
Of course, the printed media still have their fixed reader groups and their unique advantages. Many people still prefer the traditional way of reading. The printed media enable people to read in a more relaxed way with few limits on the surroundings.
While the quality of paper, printing technology and presentation is much better today, the quality of content does not necessarily follow. Books and magazines are also relatively over-priced.
The survey could in fact also provide the printed media with food for thought as well as placing an onus on the impact of the electronic media.