What are the barriers to reading? – National Reading Survey

Despite its ability to enhance health, knowledge, and wellbeing, reading rates are falling in Australia. In this article, we explore some of the common barriers to reading identified as part of our National Reading Survey.


The National Reading Survey by Australia Reads collected data from more than 3,000 Australians across two groups of respondents:

  • ‘General readers’ from multiple panel sources, collectively representative of Australian state and gender populations over 16 years of age;
  • ‘Engaged readers’ sourced from e-newsletter subscribers of Australian publishing houses and social media followers of Australia Reads – meaning they engage with book related news.

From these responses, researchers delivered the following findings about reading behaviours and barriers.


Watching TV and movies the biggest competitor to reading 

The number one reason we don’t read books is because we are watching TV/movies at home. Both survey groups (58% of general readers and 67% of engaged readers) nominated watching TV and movies at home as the number one leisure activity that competes with their reading time more than any other option. 


Browsing social media/internet biggest threat for engaged readers 

While ‘browsing social media and the internet’ is the second biggest competitor for our reading time across both survey groups, it poses an 18% bigger threat to the reading habits of engaged readers (52% compared to 34% general readers). While the internet has demonstrated its power as a platform for talking about books, with the success of BookTok and Bookstagram, the wider trend may be worrying if it results in engaged readers becoming occasional, or general, readers. 


Engaged readers distracted by creative crafts, cards, puzzles and board games 

In good news for booksellers who also stock cards, puzzles, games and other indoor craft activities, engaged readers rank these as the fourth activity they currently choose ahead of reading. This is ahead of visiting family and friends; exercising; playing video games; and pursuing outdoor leisure activities such as at the pool, beach, camping.


Books deemed too expensive

When asked about the barriers to buying books, the survey found that general readers are more likely to deem the cost of books ‘too expensive’ (38%) than engaged readers (29%). We know engaged readers have a bigger appetite for and appreciation of the joys and benefits of reading books and can assume this leads to them better appreciating the value of the book when considering its price. 


While these findings show the serious impact that other forms of visual and digital media have had on people’s willingness to read, they also offer insights into how we might engage readers.

  • Emphasis could be placed on creating promotional campaigns showing how easily reading can accompany other activities. For example, listening to audio books while cooking, gardening, doing home improvements, doing puzzles or playing card games, exercising, driving, dining alone, at the beach, on holiday. 
  • Campaigns about the value for money that books offer could also help counter the perception that books are too expensive. For example, relating the cost of a book to the hours of value it provides, comparing it to the cost/value of other leisure activities, as well as emphasising the ability to re-read a book any time you like, lend it to friends and family, and have conversations with others about it. 

Read the key findings and full report of the National Reading Survey (2021) to find out more.