MANILA, Philippines - What is the most popular book read (outside of school) by Filipinos? No, it is not Harry Potter, but the Bible. According to the 2007 National Book Development Board (NBDB) Readership Survey, 67 percent of respondents across the country read the Bible the most, followed by romance or love novels (33 percent), cookbooks (28 percent), comic books (26 percent) and religious or inspirational works (20 percent).
Other relatively popular book categories in 2007 are, in this order: humor, science (to my delight), horror and suspense, family planning, business, sports and fitness, health and medicine, government, laws, agriculture, lifestyle, heroes, animals, child rearing, social issues, and horoscopes.
Early this year, the NBDB commissioned the Social Weather Stations to do a second Readership Survey (the first was done in 2003). There were 1,200 respondents: 300 each from the NCR, Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Respondents answered detailed questions about their reading habits, preferences, attitudes and behavior. (I am a governing board member of the NBDB.)
Decline in reading
First, the bad news. Generally, the survey shows that reading has slightly declined in our nation. Only 92 percent of respondents say they read, down two percent from 2003. The reading of books, comics, newspapers, and magazines has gone down, by seven, 13, 14, and 15 percent, respectively.
Why the decline? One culprit is the National Capital Region (NCR). Surprisingly, the NCR is the only cluster in the country where reading has decreased, by five percent. In Luzon areas outside NCR, readership has actually increased by two percent, and in Mindanao, readers have held steady.
Despite the proliferation of bookstores, publishers, and libraries in the NCR, book readers have decreased by a whopping 31 percent, from 95 percent in 2003 to 64 percent in 2007. Magazine readers in the NCR have decreased by 27 percent, comics readers by 12 percent, and newspaper readers by 10 percent.
But there is good news elsewhere. In the Visayas, general readership has increased by four percent. Readers of books in the Visayas increased by 11 percent; comics readers, by 10 percent; magazine readers, by one percent. (Newspaper readers have decreased by four percent.)
It is interesting to note that NBDB has done a lot of intervention programs in the Visayas, such as the Booklatan community reading activities, which may possibly have accounted in part for the increase.
Kudos to the youth
The youth are leading the way. They start to read non-school books at age 16, on average, one year earlier than in 2003. Again, NCR is the poor exception—young people here start reading non-school books at age 18 on average, two years later than the national norm.
Unfortunately, reading has declined across all age groups, except again for the youth, those in the 18 to 24 age bracket, where the percentage of readers has in fact gone up. Does this mean that we read less as we grow older? I hope not.
Reading has also declined across all socioeconomic groups, except those in the AB class. Public school students now read fewer books, newspapers, magazines, and comics than they did in 2003, and as for private school respondents, the slight increase in reading today is only among those reading comics.
Ninety-six percent of urban respondents read, compared to 88 percent in the rural areas. This may be explained by the lack of access to reading materials in areas far from city centers.
Pinoys read anytime they want. Evidently, reading non-school books is not a habit for most people, except for some who read before going to sleep. The number of books read in the past year is seven on the average.
An average of seven books a year is not too bad, but what is alarming is the median number of books read, which is a low three. This means that even if half the adult population of the Philippines have read three or more non-school books in the past year, the other half have read only at most three, or worse, no books at all.
Why do we read? More than 85 percent of the respondents read to gain knowledge or more information. The rest read for enjoyment. Almost half of the readers read books by Filipino authors only, while the other half read both local and foreign books.
However, the majority of the respondents, whether they read or not, have few books at home. (More than forty percent have at most only five books in their homes.)
Why? Perhaps more readers prefer to read media other than print, such as the Net. Perhaps others turn to other types of entertainment, such as TV. Perhaps the cost of books has become prohibitive for most of us.
The survey does not analyze the reasons why, but the research team offers some recommendations. “The challenge is for booksellers and publishers, printers and paper and ink manufacturers, to make more books affordable. The government can facilitate this, as well as the financing of technology upgrades to make operations more efficient and economical.”
“Authors are also challenged to write more books, not just to entertain, but also to inform, to teach the readers skills or to convey to them practical knowledge. Community libraries [should encourage] adults and out-of-school youth to like to read books; and educators, to teach students to read longer materials, such as books.”
The NBDB will present the 2007 Readership Survey results to the public on Nov. 28, 9 a.m. to 12 noon, at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center, Pasig City. Publishers, reading associations, educators, and other stakeholders are encouraged to attend. For more details, call the NBDB at 9209853.