A shabby scorecard of reading books

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A shabby scorecard of reading books


We all know that Koreans are not great readers. The publishing industry has been suffering from “the worst slump in history” for more than a decade. Another statistical figure proves that tendency. According to the Household Income and Expenditure Trends by Statistics Korea, households with more than two members spend an average of 18,690 won ($18) per month on books. That is the lowest number in 11 years. The monthly spending on books per household was 26,346 won in 2003, but it dropped to 21,325 won in 2004. Since 2012, it went down to the 10,000 won level. According to the Korean Publishers Association, the average retail price of books was 14,678 won last year. Each household purchased less than two books on average per month.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism conducts a survey on reading behavior every two years, and the 2013 survey showed that Korean adults read an average of 9.2 books per year, 0.7 less than 2011. The daily reading time was 23.5 minutes, 2.4 minutes shorter than the 2011 figure. The Korean Publishers Association’s survey shows that the number of copies of the first edition was 2,733 in 2013. Compared to the 5,550 average in 2002, the number of copies has decreased in half. Major events such as the local election, the World Cup and the Asian Games are scheduled for this year, and the publishing industry may experience another serious slump.

People are not reading as much as before because of television, movies, the Internet and smartphones. It’s hard to find people reading on the subway. Moreover, people have lost the financial and psychological luxury to read books due to an economic slump and intensifying competition. The Culture Ministry’s survey also showed that 39.5 percent of adults and students responded that they were too busy to read books.

Households of different income levels showed different behavior. Last year, households in the lower 20 percentile income bracket spent 5,278 won per month on books, 12.9 percent less than the previous year. However, the top 20 percent spent 30,160 won, 9 percent more than the year before. The trend of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is evident in reading as well.

Books are the foundation of cultural prosperity. Readers gain insight and creativity by experiencing other worlds and understanding the lives of others through books. Rather than blaming the people for not reading books, we should create an encouraging environment. The government is promoting book clubs and public reading programs. However, these projects should be supported by a social atmosphere where people have time to read a book after work.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 28, Page 33

*The author is a culture and sports news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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