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What attracts Filipinos to read?

It is always a matter of curiosity to know how much our country reads, if at all. That it continues to crave books and reading materials despite the general problems of accessibility and affordability is amazing in itself. But we all know that, for any manner of meaningful long-term planning for both the government and the private sector, such information is absolutely necessary.

The National Book Development Board (NBDB), as the government agency mandated to conduct research on the book publishing industry to determine the reading habits and attitudes of Filipinos, commissioned an independent readership survey in 2017.

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There have been previous readership surveys in 2003, 2007 and 2012, but these were rider surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations. For the first time, the agency had an approved budget item that allowed it to run an independent survey, one no longer dependent on the kindness of benefactors and principal originators of the endeavor.

Leonor G. Reyes, the NBDB operations services director who oversaw the survey, highlighted the firsts in this survey, five years hence. This is the very first time the youth population was included as respondents; the survey had 112 questions compared to 70 in the past, and now included in its coverage digital, audio and e-books. There were dedicated questions on the types of  books acquired—second-hand books, brand-new books, e-books—as well as on other subjects, such as reading from different types of gadgets, e-book apps, fanfiction websites.

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The NBDB was privileged to work with the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute, which had 2,400 survey respondents: 1,200 were 6 to 17 years old (youth); and 1,200 were 18 years old and above (adults). Textbooks were not included, as leisure reading was the focus. Respondents were asked about their reading habits for the period May 2017 to April 2018.  They were from rural and urban areas all over the country, except the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao because of prevailing security conditions then.

In selecting a national representative sample, the Philippines was divided into four geographic divisions—Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and National Capital Region. A sample of 300 households was selected from each of the groups for a total of 1,200, with each household having two respondents, an adult and a child. Six households from each selected barangay were chosen based on the 2010 Census of Population and Housing.

Dr. Dennis S. Mapa, project consultant  and dean and professor of the UP School of Statistics, presented the main highlights of the survey. What attracts Filipinos to read? In the order of ranking, both the adults (63.14 percent) and the youth (43.29 percent) chose “interesting topics.” For the youth, illustrations or pictures and “words used [that] are familiar or easy to understand” came next.  Television and Facebook are the youth’s main reading sources these days, with word of mouth as a third source. Newspapers and magazines made up a poor fourth source.

Seventy-five percent of the youth and 73 percent of adults are willing to spend only up to P199 for a foreign book, with a comparative number opting for only up to P99. These findings should have a bearing on the current deliberations in the Senate on the removal of the current tax incentives for industries, including the book publishing industry. It is some comfort that, at the first public hearing, Senators Miguel Zubiri and Juan Edgardo Angara categorically said they were not supportive of any taxes on books.

There is a wealth of information in the results that will guide the NBDB as it continues to strive to support book publishing and readership in the country. Its results will bear on the agency’s policies and strategies on capacity-building, content development and book promotion.

With the high interest of the 100-plus members of the audience at last week’s public presentation, I am certain that many researchers will be led to explore with greater focus other areas of literacy.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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