The Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund has funded research by Deakin and Murdoch Universities into teenagers’ reading behaviour. Called Teen Reading in the Digital Era, the research is a pilot study of Australian teenagers’ practice using traditional print and digital platforms for recreational reading.

The project’s literature says, “Research shows reading for pleasure is linked to young people’s school success and post-school job prospects. Yet, in an age where convenient personal and portable video media has now become available and affordable to many, will reading as a leisure pastime continue as an option for future generations?”

The Teen Reading study surveyed over 500 teenagers from schools in Victoria and Western Australia, representing a range of socio-economic, geographical and cultural factors. The researchers asked about leisure reading, borrowing and purchasing habits for print and e-books, but also the social aspects of these practices. Interviews were also conducted with students from each class to capture their everyday experiences and to generate new themes for ongoing research.

Some key findings are:

  • 50% of sampled teens read books for pleasure for at least 15 minutes a day
  • Most teens prefer print books (many reporting they prefer the feel of books)
  • Of those who read eBooks, over 60% obtain them from free or file-sharing sites
  • Price and ease of access is a factor in teens’ preference for print
  • Digital literacy skills and technological limitations are barriers to eBook access
  • 54% hold a public library card
  • 24% had regular access to a dedicated e-book reader and 87% have a tablet, but few read frequently on these devices

One the the study’s participants said, “I prefer print books because they look nice on my shelf and you can have them forever – you also don’t need Wifi!”

What are teenagers reading?

The study found that series fiction and books with media tie-ins are popular, and genres such as fantasy, romance, humour and game-related action titles. Australian fiction by authors such as John Marsden, Andy Griffiths, Isobelle Carmody, Emily Rodda and Melina Marchetta are represented. But despite the apparent prevalence of blockbuster media franchise titles, many teens read these books alongside a diverse range of other texts: adult fantasy and SF, ‘quality’ children’s fiction, high graphics text for much younger readers, classic literature, sports, science and hobby-related non-fiction.

Another student said, “When reading a paper book, you can flip through the pages and smell the nice paper smell you get when opening a new book. But on a digital device, you can’t do any of that… I do find online books useful though, when the book I am trying to find is not available in my local library or in the book store. The book can almost always be found online.”

The Teen Reading Research Group is planning an ongoing program of research over the next five years and is seeking partners to support the program in a variety of ways.

For more information about the study, see www.teenreading.net