The Audience Agency group was commissioned by Arts Council England to deliver an evidence review intended to:

  • Assess the robustness of existing evidence and highlight specific gaps in knowledge that may indicate a need for additional research
  • Benchmark the current state of play and provide a basis for considering the impact of future interventions
  • Enable Arts Council England to push forward with demonstrably successful approaches to reader development and influence reading for pleasure habits amongst the public

Key findings:

The report found that literary fiction is in good health, and poetry is booming - up 66% over the five years from 2013-18, thanks largely to online poetry and Instapoets.

The ways we read books have changed rapidly in the last decade, with more book formats available now than ever before. Ebooks exploded in popularity, although more recent evidence shows readers are now starting to turn back to print. The audiobook market grew by 150% between the years 2014-17, reaching and growing in popularity with groups of people who are traditionally not avid readers.

There is room for much more research into readers' choice of book formats; for example, the report found that BAME readers are significantly more likely to read on smartphones. The shift to digital also offers new challenges and opportunities for the sector around data.

Unfortunately, the last few years have seen a long-term drop in library use. Libraries are so important as a community resource and for their diverse engagement - but are clearly struggling. It is concerning to see that avid readers are turning away from them.

There has been relatively little research specifically focused on adult reading for pleasure (as opposed to reading in children, book sales, literacy, or the impacts and benefits of reading, for example). While reading offers many extrinsic benefits, it is pleasure and enjoyment that draws adults to read fiction and we should not lose sight of this.

Read the full report