What are we reading? – National Reading Survey

From paperback fiction to the classics, we explore the kinds of books Australians are reading, as reported in our inaugural 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 what we’re reading as a nation.


Paperback fiction most popular choice

In Australia, paperback books are by far the most frequently read format, followed by hardback, then e-books and lastly audio books. Whereas only 3% of survey respondents claim to have never read a paperback, about a third (34%) claim never to read e-books, and more than half (52%) have never listened to an audio books. Australians are reading far more adult fiction than any other category, followed by adult non-fiction, children’s books, then young adult books.


New releases are not a priority

A huge majority (89%) of Australian readers don’t really mind if the book they are reading is a newly released title or has been out for a while.


Reading Australian books is important

When it comes to choosing local book creators, engaged readers are more inclined to see the value of supporting Australian writers by buying their books, with 87% agreeing, or somewhat agreeing, that ‘it’s important to support Australian writers by buying their books’, compared to 56% of general readers. Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily translate into reading books by Australians, as lower numbers in each survey group (79% of engaged readers and 47% of general readers) agreed with the statement ‘I like to read books by local Australian writers and illustrators’.


Still reading the classics

About a third of both survey groups (33% of general readers and 35% of engaged readers) have been ‘making an effort to read more of the classics’ suggesting that they consider the classics as almost a guaranteed reliable reading choice and/or a ‘necessary’ reading choice.



These findings point to several opportunities to engage readers in Australia:

  • Reading campaigns featuring fiction paperbacks may provide the strongest appeal to the widest audience (eg, the traditional 3-for-2 paperback promotions, and paperback backlist promotions for brand name authors or specific genres of fiction, such as crime). 
  • There is also potential to build on the perennial popularity of promoting classics – especially in both the preferred format (paperback) and preferred category (fiction).
  • It may be worth conducting more research into consumers’ interest in ‘new releases’, that could inform investment decisions and lead to campaigns that promote books beyond their new release period, thereby finding ways to extend their shelf-life in market. 
  • It is worth carefully considering attitudes to Australian books when designing campaigns to reach general readers in particular, as this is not their primary motivation when choosing to read. Campaigns for this audience could incorporate Australian titles without the fact they are Australian being the hero message, for example.


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