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What, and how, do we read?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Last August, we decided to go on a tiny quest to find out if people like reading.


It was a very valid question, given the alleged death of reading as a habit in this age of screentime, social media and content oversaturation. (There’s a high chance you came across this post via social media.)


We went on this quest by conducting a humble Google forms survey comprising 12 questions. The ultimate goal was to figure out if that were any gaps in the publishing industry — and if there were gaps, how could Faction Press fill them?


Several questions were at the back of our minds while this survey was out in the world: if our respondents did like reading, do they still read books — like, actual physical copies of books? Or if they don’t enjoy reading, but are still in touch with what’s happening in the world, how — and where — do they consume their content?


While this survey received an overwhelming response from readers (90% of respondents said they love reading books), one particular respondent pointed out that we should have included a question about when was the last time a book-lover read, since our digital way of life means it could have been months/years (gasp) since a book lover had picked up a book.


Over the duration of a month, our survey received 150 responses globally. Our presence in Singapore meant that nearly two-thirds of responses were from Singapore-based individuals; 6.4% were from the Philippines; 5% were from Malaysia; 3% from Indonesia, and the others were respondents were based in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Thailand, United States, India, Japan, Sweden, France and even Mexico!


Age-range of our survey respondents.

About two-thirds of respondents (96 individuals) were between the ages of 26 and 35 (thank you, millennial crowd); 11 respondents were Gen Z-ers (17-25 years old); one was below the age of 16 (thank you to this younger person), while the remaining 42 respondents were in more mature age ranges (hey, everyone is young and heart).


 

Our respondents’ comments/thoughts to certain questions pertaining to how one reads confirmed how technology has influenced reading. Most people still prefer reading physical copies of books, but digital books and audiobooks were definitely giving physical copies a run for its money:


Most of our survey respondents are still quite tactile readers.

Although people still appreciate physical books, 119 respondents responded to one question about digital books — 35.3% of whom purchase copies legally through publishing houses or third-party sites; 26.1% download them illegally (RIP, Z-Lib); and 38.7% selected both options.


This got us thinking about our “format-agnostic” approach to publishing. What we mean by this is that we think storytelling should not be confined to any medium, given the many ways we are consuming stories — be it through print, online, audio, film or even through live performances. Though it might seem counterintuitive to have such an approach since we are in an industry that is very much associated with physical books, we want to be flexible in the way our authors’ stories and work are being circulated in the world. That doesn’t mean we won’t focus on publishing physical books — they’ll just have a smaller print run (i.e. 300-500 copies instead of 1,000 copies). We ultimately want to help our authors use their digital rights in more dynamic ways to ensure that the digital versions of their work are not just lost in cyberspace.

 

Faction Press’ focus on publishing creative non-fiction means we wanted to find out what non-fiction genres people like to read. The top genres of non-fiction that respondents gravitate towards are: history, politics, memoir/autobiographies/biographies, philosophy and food writing/culture.


When it comes to Southeast Asia-focused writing, 52.8% of respondents said they read English-language books about Southeast Asia by Southeast Asian writers, and 55.3% of respondents said they read English-language books about the region by non-Southeast Asians.


The question that got one of the most interesting responses was related to money. To be more precise, it was about one’s willingness to pay for a non-fiction book* written by a Southeast Asian or individual based in the region (*the caveats were that the book would be about 120-150 pages long, and may have scattered black and white illustrations/pictures).


We were personally expecting people’s subscription-driven lives to result in their monthly/annual budget for books to decline. To our surprise, we were heartened to see that approximately nearly a quarter (18.3%) of respondents were willing to pay more than SGD 20 for a book, and a whopping 40.1% were happy to pay between SGD 15 to SGD 20.


Is a book worth a restaurant meal? Some survey respondents think so.

A sizeable number (22.5%) were willing to pay between SGD 10 and SGD 15, while almost 8% stated that they don’t pay for books (they borrow them from libraries, or download them legally/illegally). Approximately 11% (the "N/A" in the pie chart above) didn't want to commit to a price range, and left some comments and feedback to this question, which included “Depends on how attractive the cover is” (people definitely judge books by their covers). Shout-out to the respondent who so passionately said, “In Southeast Asian History specifically, anything SGD 30 and below is an automatic purchase” (emphasis ours).

 

Beyond the realm of non-fiction, we asked what kind of English-language stories and materials people like to read, and general fiction came out top, followed by short stories/short story collections, historical fiction, translated literature and East Asian literature.


The very last question of this survey was focused on how people consume information beyond books, and 10% of respondents skipped most of the survey questions because they said they do not like reading books (no judgement — we’ve got too much going on in our waking lives).


The results from this particular question confirmed the trend that social media platforms were becoming the main way people consume information (114 respondents get their information/news/stories through social media posts). For purveyors of news, over 100 respondents go to digital news and media outlets to get their news, while 39 respondents still read print newspapers and magazines (print is dead; long live print!). Echoing the growing trend of audiobooks, over 60% of respondents listen to podcasts — and it’s definitely a trend train that Faction Press would like to hop on, down the road.


Not having an interest or time in books means other content platforms are winning your attention.

 

After analysing the results, we concluded that Faction Press will:

  • Aim to widen the global reading public’s knowledge about Southeast Asia by publishing Southeast Asian writers and others based in the region;

  • Be format-agnostic and focus on having smaller print runs for physical books; and

  • Help our authors use their digital rights in more dynamic ways.

What exactly is a format-agnostic approach to publishing? We believe storytelling should not be confined to any medium, given the many ways we are consuming stories — be it through print, online, audio, film or even through live performances. Our job would be to get writers' stories on the printed page, and work on getting these stories out into other mediums.


Over the past few months, we’ve been working hard to reach out to authors, writing communities, independent publishing houses, and booksellers around the world to see how we can work with them. We will not have a rigorous publishing programme, but we sincerely look forward to playing a small part in disrupting the global public’s understanding of Southeast Asia, one micro-narrative at a time.

If you have questions about this survey, or have other thoughts and musings about Southeast Asian writing and publishing, drop us a note at hello@faction.press.

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