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The Decline of South Korean Readers

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According to recent findings, about six out of ten South Korean adults did not read even a single book last year.

According to the 2023 National Reading Survey released by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on the 18th, the comprehensive reading rate, which signifies the percentage of adults who read or listened to at least one general book between September 2022 and August 2023, was only 43.0%.

This is a decrease of 4.5 percentage points from 2021, marking the lowest figure since the reading survey began in 1994.

The annual comprehensive reading rate for adults was as high as 86.8% up to 1994. However, since e-books were included in the statistics for 2013 (72.2%), the rate has consistently decreased, setting new record lows each time.

Broken by age, the comprehensive reading rate for those aged 60 and over was 15.7%, a significant decrease from 23.8% in 2021.

The reading rate was the highest among those in their 20s (19-29 years old), at 74.5%, but it also decreased by 3.6 percentage points during the same period. The comprehensive reading rates for those in their 30s and 40s were 68.0% and 47.9%, respectively.

The reading rate also varied greatly depending on income.

The reading rate for high-income earners with a monthly income of $4,200 or more was 54.7%, but for those with a monthly income of $1,680 or less, it was only 9.8%.

By medium, the reading rate for print books, excluding e-books and audiobooks, was 32.3%, indicating that seven out of ten adults did not read a single print book in a year.

Adults’ annual comprehensive reading volume was 3.9 books, down 0.6 from 2021. Only 1.7 of the books read were print books. The number of books purchased was 1.0 for print books and 1.2 for e-books.

Looking at reading habits, adults spend an average of 18.5 minutes reading books on weekdays and 25.0 minutes on holidays.

The most common reason for not reading was “lack of time due to work,” accounting for 24.4% of responses.

Other reasons included “using media other than books, such as smartphones or games” (23.4%) and “not having the habit of reading books” (11.3%).

Unlike adults, students showed an improvement in their reading indicators.

The comprehensive reading rate for elementary, middle, and high school students was 95.8%, an increase of 4.4 percentage points from 2021. The annual comprehensive reading volume was 36.0 books, an increase of 1.6 books during the same period.

The time spent on reading was recorded as an average of 82.6 minutes on weekdays and 89.0 minutes on holidays.

85.4% of students reported using a library, and 52.3% said they had participated in reading activities such as reading groups.

This survey considered the reading rate of general books excluding textbooks, study references, exam books, magazines, and comics, but the general public’s perception of the reading scope differed.

Responding to a question about the scope of reading, 49.6% of students considered “reading comic books” part of reading, and 67.7% of adults considered “reading web novels” as reading.

An official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said, “Based on the implications of this survey, we will solidly promote the policy tasks of the 4th Reading Culture Promotion Basic Plan implemented this year to create a culture of reading that allows non-readers to become readers.”

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