Home > About reading, Personal Posts > What, where, why French people read. A survey for the Salon du Livre of Paris.

What, where, why French people read. A survey for the Salon du Livre of Paris.

This weekend, it’s the Salon du Livre in Paris. I’m not going and I have mixed up feelings about it. On the one hand, I’m dying to go because, wow, lots of books and writers and all. Isn’t that a book blogger’s paradise? On the other hand, the idea of this salon at the Parc des Expositions, a huge venue where they also organize the Salon de l’Automobile and the Salon de l’Agriculture doesn’t suit me. Too much noise, not cozy enough, lots of people. It doesn’t go well with my idea of books and reading. Literature is not suited for a trade fair atmosphere. Yet, it’s a great opportunity to hear about books, literature and reading at the same time, so it’s worth it. Mixed feelings, as I said.

Since there’s this huge book fest, the CNL (Centre National du Livre) ordered and published a survey about books and French people. The aim is to know how many books the French read, which books they favor, where they buy their books, where they read them and what’s their attitude towards books and reading in general. You can find the whole survey here.

I just want to share some results with you because I’m always curious about how books are doing. The survey considers that anything that has pages is a book, except if it’s a magazine. So, this survey includes comics, all genres of non-fiction books (travel guides, books about hobbies, self-help books…), children books and dictionaries. The questions were asked to 1000 people, representative of the French population. Knowing that, 84% of the French consider themselves as readers and 24% as heavy readers. But 91% have read or browsed through (for dictionaries) at least one book in the last 12 months.

In average, the genres the most read are novels (and especially crime fiction), non-fiction books and comics or mangas.

96% of these readers read during their free time and not for work. 49% read every day, at home (95%) or outside, especially while traveling (61%), while commuting (26%) or in other public places. (28%) 42% read before going to bed, 36% have no preferred time. I was surprised that only 10% read during the holidays. I often hear people around me say that they only read during the holidays because they have the time to do it.

The number of books read yearly is interesting. 9% read nothing, 22% read from 1 to 4 books, 41% read from 5 to 19 books and 28% read more than 20 books per year. This survey was also done in 2015. Contrary to what I would have assumed, the number of books read goes from an average of 16 books per reader in 2015 to 20 in 2017. People read more! Paper books still have a big place in the readers’ hands. Their average number per reader increased, going from 14 books in 2015 to 17 books in 2017. And heavy readers increased their number of paper books read from 42 to 52. +10 books in two years, well done! Ebooks only progress by 1 unit in average. They’re not likely to replace paper books anytime soon.

People get their books from different sources: 80% have purchased new books, 77% have received at least one as a gift, 34% bought used books and 32% went to a library. Honestly, I expected the library score to be higher than that. Books are mostly purchased in “cultural stores” (79%), general book stores (65%), on the internet (45%), supermarkets (42%), books stores (27%), second hand book shops & charity shops (55%), fairs and salons (20%). Clearly, people buy books through different distribution channels.

30% of readers never buy their books in bookstores. For 52% of them, it’s because they don’t have an independent book store near their home, 32% think books are more expensive in these little shops and 29% because their local bookstore doesn’t have the book they want in stock. Since the law implementing a unique price for books was voted in 1981, I’m surprised there are still so many people who don’t know that a book will not be cheaper at the supermarket. Apparently, independent bookstores have an ad campaign to organize or signs to put in their shop window.

I find it curious that 82% of readers have chosen the book they were going to buy before going to their store. Books are chosen according to the writer (86%), to the recommendation of a friend or relative (86%) or a literary critic (61%).

77% of them sometimes choose the book in the shop. 97% choose a book because of its topic, 89% after reading the blurb and 79% because they know the writer. I’m surprised that book covers don’t play a more significant role in the book buying decision. After all, the cover is what catches the eye on a display table.

45% of French readers borrow books in libraries. 70% of readers never borrow books from libraries because they’d rather own the books they read (70%) or because the library doesn’t have the book they want (34%) or because they can’t borrow it long enough. Personally, I never borrow books in the library mostly because I can’t manage the deadlines and the need to visit the library in my heavy work schedule.

The survey also asked the interviewees why reading matters. It matters because it brings pleasure (91%), it helps learn new things (95%), it contributes to one’s happiness and life fulfilment (68%) and 65% agree that it boosts their professional life. There’s a strong consensus on the benefits of reading to improve one’s mind (99%), be more openminded (97%), have a good time (97%), escape every day’s life (95%), unwind (96%), pass the time (86%), forget your worries (80%), have a better understanding of the world (85%), share ideas with other readers (75%) and understand oneself better (68%). Wow.

This seems very positive for books but it’s not as positive for literature. This survey is about all kind of books and the genre the most read are “how-to” books. (cooking, gardening, travel guides…) General literature is not among the top reads of the readers. Crime fiction comes first and novels only make the Top 5 of reads for people older than 35. Only the 15/24-year-old have classics in their Top Five, most likely because these books were imposed in school.

Books remain a frequent gift, 85% of the French declare that they buy books for gifts. They choose to give books for the pleasure of it (68%), to share a book they loved (37%), to pass on knowledge (30%) or to make a writer or a topic known (24%) and 19% pick a book because it’s a gift at a reasonable price.

People read less than before or less than they’d like to because they lack time (71%). The Top 5 of activities that the French do on their free time are listening to music (87%), watch TV (83%), go out with friends (81%), read magazines or newspapers (79%) and be on social networks (79%)

63% of the interviewees would like to read more but don’t have enough time. So, guys, here’s my secret: just turn off the TV or the computer once or twice per week and you’ll see how much reading time you’ll gain. For 23%, reading reviews on websites and for 18%, discussing books on social media push them to read more. Fellow book bloggers, we seem to have a role to play here even if for 55% of them, the trigger to read more is discussing books with friends or relatives.

Another very interesting question was: “If you had one more day off per week, what would you do?” 31% would go out with friends, 14% would read and 13% would do a cultural outing. This sounds like New Year good resolutions but I’m pretty sure that if everyone had an additional day-off, it would mean more TV, more social media and not so much more reading or visits to the museum.

That’s all, folks. I hope I didn’t bore you with all these numbers but I found this survey fascinating, surprising and I wanted to share it with fellow book lovers.

Next weekend I’ll go to Quais du Polar, our crime fiction fest in Lyon. Even if you can’t be with us at this incredible celebration of crime fiction books, you can visit their website and replay the conferences.

  1. March 25, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    I find it fascinating, too. Thanks for sharing the highlights.


    • March 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks Tom. I enjoyed discovering all the questions and answers.


  2. March 26, 2017 at 12:07 am

    That is indeed interesting- I wonder how we would compare here in Australia. (Not that I can imagine our philistine government commissioning such a survey!)
    Re the covers: I think people often don’t realise the subliminal effect of covers and how they are influenced by them. I don’t know if it’s the same with French books, but here there are clear cues about the genre from the cover. It’s not just the cover image, it’s the font and the colours too: pink cursive means chicklit, large gold author names mean commercial fiction, moody enigmatic images or absolutely plain covers with only author name and title mean literary fiction and so on. So (apparently) people are drawn to what interests them and that’s when they do the other things like read the blurb etc. (I learned this when I took part in a survey and they sent me the results!)


    • March 26, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      It would be interesting to see the same survey done in several countries, just to compare the results. I’d be curious about the outcome.

      I agree with you, covers influence impulsive purchases. There are codes here too and they’re the same as the ones you describe. I’ve noticed in recent years that there’s now a “littérature de divertissement” display table where you can find chick lit, stuff like 50 Shades of Grey and other romance books. I even saw a shelf named “bit lit”, for vampire inspired books. Problem is that, pronounced à la française, it sounds like porn lit. This shelf has disappeared now.

      I didn’t go into all the details but the survey shows that women read more than men.


  3. March 26, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Interesting and it’s good to hear that people are reading more. Yes it does seem surprising that people know what book they are going to buy before they get to the book shop. Over here, I read somewhere, that ebook sales peaked so yes it does look as though paper books are here to stay, at least for now, but I wonder what the age break down of purchasers of physical book vs e-books would be.


    • March 26, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      People read and “use” books more. (The stats in the survey include books people browse through, like cook books or dictionarie)
      The book as an object, as a gift, as a source of entertainment, pleasure and information remains strong in people’s lives.
      There is a difference in age for ebook users but it’s not so relevant. I guess the youngest generation also buys paper books for school. Most of the time, a specific edition is required by the teacher.
      The main problem with ebooks is that they’re more complicated to lend. I was also surprised that reading a book lent by a friend or relative was not higher on the list of where people get their books from. Around me, I hear a lot of book lending among friends, colleagues, families. I know I still buy paper books also for that. I can lend them to my mother, my friends.


      • March 26, 2017 at 7:19 pm

        People probably know that if they lend someone a book, they probably won’t get it back!


        • March 26, 2017 at 7:25 pm

          Sometimes. I also see people who have “booklending partners”. They exchange books regularly and it works well.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. March 26, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Interesting, thanks for the report, Emma. I wonder if the statistic about the popularity of “comics or mangas” is specific to the attendees, rather than the general reading public. I know they’re popular. I’ve tried to read a couple, but was more or less unsuccessful.


    • March 26, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      I think the stats about comics and mangas are accurate and represent the population. A LOT of people read what we call “Bandes Dessinées” or BD, a general term for comics that has a broader meaning. We have BD festivals and there are a lot of excellent BD works. BD cover a lot of different genres, like the transcription of classics of literature, actual comics (Gaston Lagaffe, Titeuff), to dark stories, to historical stories, etc. See how many genres there are in cinema? All of them have a BD equivalent. Lots of readers get them in libraries, it’s a very popular genre.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. March 26, 2017 at 3:44 am

    I’d seen this report summarized but never got around to reading the whole thing. Thanks so much for your highlights.


    • March 26, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      You’re welcome. The complete survey is 62 pages long but it’s easy to read.


  6. March 26, 2017 at 7:34 am

    I went to ‘salon du livre’ some years ago, and it was so quiet, peaceful. Not so crowded as i saw on the tv. Not for me anymore
    Tanks for these figures, it’s quite interesting.
    I’m waiting your review of ‘Quai du Polar’


    • March 26, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      Quiet and peaceful? I must try to go again, then.

      I am looking forward to visiting Quais du Polar. I need to choose the conferences I want to attend and I’ll start on Friday with getting books signed and chatting with writers, libraires and publishers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 27, 2017 at 8:18 pm

        Quiet an peaceful ….. It was an early morning and a long time ago ….


  7. March 26, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Thanx for sharing Emma! I’m happy to know that people read more but I’m applauding the 28% of people who read more than 20 books per year! I shouldn’t have been so surprised given that books figure out on a lot of French shows, from those that are more entertaining (think ONPC) to the more intellectual (LGL). It must feel good checking the results of such a survey amidst a very strange election year. What I find a bit sad is the low percentage of people not buying books from bookstores; I mean other distribution types could compensate for low sales of books with other items, but bookstores almost exclusively rely on books and they should be supported; possibly an awareness-raising campaign to remind readers that the price of the book is independent of the retailer.
    “So, guys, here’s my secret: just turn off the TV or the computer once or twice per week and you’ll see how much reading time you’ll gain.” Once I post this comment 🙂


    • March 26, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      You’re welcome, Nino.
      I’m glad that 28% read more than 20 books per year. Maybe I’m delusional, but I think that books and literature still have a special place in France. Like you say, there are still literary shows on TV or show that include time to talk about books.
      And yes, it was a good thing to hear about these days of political disenchantment.

      I hope that independant bookstores start something soon to let the public know that they sell the book at the same price as supermarkets. No need to wait to buy a book online, it won’t be cheaper. I think this law is great and I’ve never heard any politician saying it should be changed. There’s a consensus about it. And I don’t think that books are more expensive in France than in other countries.


  8. Tony
    March 26, 2017 at 8:16 am

    I’m not at all surprised that people know what hey want to buy before entering the shop. I rarely browse, I’m always focused on books I’ve been wanting to read, or my favourite writers…


    • March 26, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      You never buy any book on impulse when you’re in a bookstore? Wow. Can you send me a bit of your ironclad willpower? I never seem to be able to come out of a bookstore empty-handed or with only the books I intended to buy.


  9. March 26, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Very interesting, Emma. Thanks for sharing the results. I’m surprised to see that 49% of readers read every day – that’s higher than I would have predicted. On average, I probably read 3 or 4 days a week, rarely every day unless I’m on holiday that week. If it’s been a long day at work, then I usually find I’m too tired to read in the evening – watching a film or TV drama seems a more attractive option!


    • March 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      I was surprised by the 49% of daily readers. I understand it, I can’t go to bed without reading a bit before, even if I went out and go to bed at 1 am. I’ll still read for a while.


  10. March 26, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I recently (maybe 2 months ago) saw the results of a similar survey carried out in the UK but now that I am searching for it to compare with the French results, I cannot find one more recent than 2013. I am pretty sure I didn’t dream it!
    OK, managed to find it. It’s more about literature and the definition/understanding of the concept of literature, so not purely about reading.


    • March 26, 2017 at 7:33 pm

      Thanks for the link, it’s very interesting. Seems like books are not dead.


  11. March 26, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Interesting results and a positive outlook for reading! Long may it continue. I think that there seem to be a lot more novellas published in France as well, the size of the books never looks as daunting as those written in English.

    I always wonder about books which have those bland covers, clearly they aren’t going to be as many spontaneous purchases because of a cover that catches the eye, those books have to be heard about beforehand. I think we are spoilt for choice with covers and that they add something delightful to the reading experience.


    • March 28, 2017 at 5:53 am

      These results cheer you up, don’t they?
      I never thought about the size of books published by French writers but you’re right, most of them are rather short. I don’t know why.

      The “bland covers” are Gallimard ones and the name of the publisher is enough to sell the books. It’s prestigious to be published in this edition. I like them because they don’t betray the author by planting ideas about the book in the reader’s head. Sometimes, colourful covers convey ideas that are not flattering for the writer. For example, my copy of a collection of short stories by Alice Munro has a chick lit pink cover. I don’t think that Alice Munro deserves chick lit pink covers or one of those awful ones with women in dresses whose face is cut off the picture.
      See https://bookaroundthecorner.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/munro_fugitives.jpg or https://bookaroundthecorner.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/munro_bohneur.gif


  12. March 26, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Emma. Loved it. I’m always frustrated that I don’t read more on holidays. It’s always a dream to do so, I know why though. It’s because I rarely holiday in one place, and when I do, we are usually out sightseeing, walking, etc, I like to aim for a siesta during which I can read but it rarely happens, and when it does I fall asleep!

    And, re bookshops. I often go in with a book in mind, particularly in the last decade when I really am not randomly looking for something to read, but I am usually tempted by at least one other book while I’m there. It’s why I avoid bookshops and libraries these days and go online – I’m surrounded by the unread temptations of decades of bookshop visiting. Sad but true.


    • March 28, 2017 at 5:57 am

      I read during the holidays but not that much when we’re travelling the way you describe. I love reading on the beach when I have the chance.

      I see your point about bookshops. I’m also surrounded by unread temptations. But still, browsing through books is such a pleasure!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. March 31, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Absolutely fascinating.

    In the UK music market a key demographic is people (mostly I think men) who buy about ten albums a year. That’s not a lot of albums, but there’s a lot of people in that category. They push sales. I wonder if the 5 to 19 book crowd are similar. It’s probably them pushing the sales of the big releases.

    Interesting too how ebooks and print books seem to be finding a happy equilibrium. I think that’s happening in a lot of places.

    I do suspect France may still place more importance on literature (noting that this was about books, not just literature which is only a small segment of the total) than many other countries. Then again, maybe not. Bookshops are widespread in Italy which suggests someone’s buying books. It’s common on the tube in London to see people reading on their way in and from work (more in than from, probably due to being tired after work).

    Interesting too that the numbers who go into a bookshop without a clear idea of what they’re purchasing are lowish. I suspect again that reflects the average reader who will likely go because there’s a particular book they want rather than readers like us who often go hoping to find something they haven’t thought of yet.

    Anyway, fascinating post Emma.


    • March 31, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      I wonder about the French music market. I still buy albums but probably not 10 per year. (or if I do, I’m just at 10 and not above)
      I think you’re right about the 5-19 books per year pushing the big release sales. They probably do. They don’t read enough to be looking for the odd book they heard about on a lit blog and rely on what they hear in the media.

      I’m not surprised that ebook sales don’t grow that much. The books are almost as expensive as the paper ones, despite France defying Brussels and applying reduced VAT rates on them. And they’re not as easy to lend as the paper ones. A lot of readers around me lend books to each other. I do it my my friends, my mom, my sister. And my mother does the same with her friends, her sister and her daughters. Lots of books travel like this. Plus there’s the current atmosphere of the “shared economy”, sharing books is fashionable.

      France has a special relationship with books but you’re right, there are a lot of bookstores in Italy too. And when I was in London, I saw that they have a book club for tube users, don’t they? You still see people with books in the metro in Paris but a lot less than when I lived there. Now, a lot of people are on their phones.

      I guess most of book buyers only go to a bookshop to buy a specific book. I wonder if they come out of the shop with only this book or if they are tempted to buy more. Nowadays, a paperback costs barely more than a packet of cigarettes.


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