Conducted by Horizon Research Limited in late 2021, this survey is the first of its kind since 2018.
Since then, the number of adults who read or started to read at least one book in the past 12 months dropped slightly, from 86% to 85%. Meanwhile, 94% of 10–17-year-olds read at least one book, down from 97% in 2018. The numbers of New Zealand women reading have remained the same since 2018 but men’s reading rates continued to drop, with 79% picking up a book in the past year, compared to 81% in 2018 and 84% in 2017.
While maintaining the questions asked in previous surveys, this year’s research had a wider scope, asking questions about languages read, how recent Covid-19 lockdowns and the ongoing pandemic have affected reading habits, and its importance to personal wellbeing.
This research into the reading habits of New Zealanders surveyed in October 2021 confirms that we remain a nation of readers, and one that loves to read to our children.
The survey found that 82% of parents of young children read with them at least once a week and usually at bedtime. Around a third reported their children under 10 years of age had a particular book they liked to be read repeatedly, while 55% said they wished they had more time to read to their kids.
42% of respondents who had read none or just a few books in the past year said their barrier to reading was lack of time, mostly due to work and whānau responsibilities, with 9% indicating that they found other media, such as television and podcasts more enjoyable.
However, respondents who did pick up a book said that reading brought pleasure and enjoyment and helped them to relax after a busy day.
We also continue to enjoy our own stories. 44% of all adult respondents said they had read or started to read at least one book by a New Zealand author or poet in the past year. Readers of local poetry were nearly twice as likely to be male than female, but the incidence of poetry reading declined with age.
Public libraries remain the most popular place to find any type of book, closely followed by bookshops and second-hand bookshops. It’s wonderful that Kiwis love to read and especially with our tamariki. But it’s concerning to see that men’s reading rates have dropped again since our 2018 survey.
We note that a lack of time remains a major barrier to reading for pleasure, especially for those aged 25 to 50. Many parents know the benefits of reading with their children, but there are 8% who don’t make time to do so.
This research is the latest snapshot of the reading landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand. We will continue to work to ensure we all keep reading because we believe it makes life better. We thank the Stout Trust and Creative NZ for supporting this research project.
2019 research: Reading in a Digital Age
This research set out to better understand New Zealanders' online reading behaviour. Unlike previous research, this report used a version of an 'experiential sampling' design, asking about what people were reading at various points across the day and week.
This kind of approach is a more reliable guide to what people are doing than based simply on asking them to recall what they have done. As a result, this research presents a unique insight into when, how and what we are reading. We read in different ways: we can quickly scan material and we can immerse ourselves in longer texts. Both ways of reading are useful, but there is a strong argument that many of the benefits of reading are closely linked to a deeper engagement that occurs with longer texts.
The participants in this study report reading more online sources than print, regardless of their age or gender.
However, while online reading is displacing traditional reading, it is not replacing it. Both formats continue to be read by the majority of readers every week.
The growth of online sources may be helping to grow reading. One in three participants in this study believe they are reading more now than ever before, because of the availability of online content and the ease and enjoyment gained from switching between materials. Others also reported finding online reading pleasurable.
This study was prepared for Read NZ Te Pou Muramura by Research First.
2018 research: Book Reading in New Zealand
This research into the reading habits of New Zealanders follows a similar report we commissioned last year and confirms again that not only are we a nation that loves to read, but also one that loves to read our own stories.
However, 442,600 Kiwis didn’t read a book in the past year. We also found that fewer men are reading books.
The 2018 study reports that 86% of New Zealand adults had read or started to read at least one book in the past year, down from 88% last year.
Looking closer at this figure shows the percentage of female respondents reading has remained essentially the same, but there was a decline in the percentage of male respondents reading.
This year we asked more questions, specifically about how New Zealanders are using their leisure time, to see how reading fits in to our lives. We also wanted to know about the other languages we read.
As in 2017, the majority of us read for relaxation and enjoyment, and our favourite fiction genres are crime, thriller and adventure stories.
It is wonderful that New Zealanders love to read and to see that books remain an important touchstone in our society. But it’s worrying to see how many of us didn’t pick up a book in the past year.
The increasing demands of society and work mean more than ever New Zealanders need to understand and apply information across a range of sources in order to function effectively at work and everyday life. Reading is the foundation for all types of literacy.
The Book Council’s vision is to grow a nation of readers. We take these findings seriously and will use them to inform a number of our programmes and projects. This research forms the foundation of our knowledge about our reading in New Zealand.
We will continue to work to ensure New Zealanders keep reading, with a particular focus on our boys.
The Book Reading in New Zealand survey was conducted by Horizon Research for the New Zealand Book Council and the final report includes data supplied by Public Libraries of New Zealand, National Library of New Zealand, and Nielsen BookScan.
2017 research: Book Reading in New Zealand
This report confirmed not only are we a nation that loves to read – we devour an average of 20.6 books a year – but also a nation that loves to read our own stories. Almost 50% of Kiwi adult survey respondents read at least one book by a New Zealand author in the past 12 months. The majority of us read for relaxation and enjoyment, and our favourite fiction genres are crime, thriller and adventure stories.
But not all the findings were positive. The survey also reveals that 394,000 Kiwi adults did not read (or even start to read) a book in the last 12 months. 31% say that they don’t have time to read, 24% say that they don’t enjoy reading, and 16% say they feel it is easier to watch movies based on a book.
“It is brilliant to see that so many Kiwis love to read. However, it is very alarming that almost half a million people in Aoteaora did not read a book in the past 12 months. The increasing demands of society and work mean more than ever New Zealanders need to understand and apply information across a range of sources in order to function effectively at work and everyday life. Reading is the foundation for all types of literacy,” says Book Council Chief Executive Jo Cribb.
New Zealand Book Council Patron Albert Wendt ONZ CNZM says that “getting reading on the national agenda is a crucial step in breaking the poverty cycle in New Zealand. There are already some excellent initiatives out there such as the Book Council’s Writers in Schools and Writers in Communities programmes, but more needs to be done. Encouraging reading, particularly reading for pleasure, is critical to ensure all New Zealanders can be part of our nation’s prosperity.”
The Book Reading in New Zealand survey was conducted by Horizon Research for the New Zealand Book Council and the final report includes data supplied by Public Libraries of New Zealand, National Library of New Zealand, and Nielsen BookScan. The Book Council will use the insights from this research to enhance its existing strategies for increasing the number of lifelong readers for pleasure, and for encouraging greater consumption of New Zealand fiction. It will also share the findings with the wider industry, including publishers, booksellers and media.
2016 Research: New Zealand reader attitudes and behaviours
In 2016, the Book Council completed phase one of our research into the attitudes and behaviours of New Zealand readers.
We ran a number of focus groups up and down the country to try to find out exactly what New Zealanders felt about books and reading. We published the report which revealed our findings. Some of the issues uncovered by our researchers included:
- why sales of local fiction trail far behind local non-fiction
- which genres Kiwis read most
- where we get our book recommendations
- whether the e-book is actually a threat to the printed book
The report attracted a lot of attention and generated a huge amount of discussion about books and reading which we were delighted about. Some of the more interesting discussions were:
- Jeremy Elwood & Michele A’Court: What’s all the fuss about Kiwi books?
- Radio New Zealand Standing Room Only feature with Tina Clough, Patricia McCormack, and Hamish Wright.
- Rachel O’Neill’s feature on the Booksellers NZ website.
The Book Council is using these insights from this research to enhance our existing strategies for increasing the number of lifelong readers for pleasure, and for encouraging greater consumption of New Zealand books. We are also sharing the findings with the wider industry, including publishers, booksellers and media.