With each passing year, Australians are generally reading fewer and fewer books of any kind. There’s dismal downward trend – except for one age category.
A 2016 Roy Morgan study of our reading habits found that the proportion of Australians who read either fiction or non-fiction declined over the previous five years across all ages from 14 up to 64.
But among those 65 and over, the picture is different: a slightly higher proportion of them is reading books than back in 2010.
Comparable facts have emerged from a reader survey conducted by Macquarie University researchers for the Australia Council, published this year. Almost 40 percent of ‘frequent readers’ (consuming more than 10 books in the last year) are over the age of 60, compared to just 15.5 percent who are under 30.
I wonder how many publishers of Australian books and literary magazines pay close attention to those readership demographics. Most of the people who work in the publishing industry as editors, marketing officers and so forth are much younger than this significant group of mature-age readers, whose tastes and preferences surely deserve special consideration since they are the only group whose consumption of books is not dwindling.
What, then, are the tastes and preferences of mature-age readers? The Australia Council report indicates that only 36% of the over-60s cited ‘escaping reality’ as one of their reasons for reading, whereas it was important for 55% of the 14-29 group. And the older the readers are, the keener they are on literary fiction by Australian authors. More than half of those over 50 (rising to two-thirds for those over 80) say they like Australian literary fiction; for readers under 30 the figure is just a quarter.
None of this surprises me. I write literary fiction in a realist mode, and – to judge by the feedback I receive, and by the audiences who turn up to events at which I talk about my books – a significant proportion of those who read what I write are over 60. And most of them seem to me to be discerning readers, well informed, thoughtful, enquiring and enthusiastic.
I have especially in mind various groups whose members often invite me to speak with them on literary topics in general and my own work in particular: a number of book clubs, library-based circles, professional associations, special-interest groups, and organisations such as MALA (Mature Adults Learning Association), U3A (University of the Third Age) and Probus.
That’s where you can find many of the stalwarts whose support for serious Australian books remains steady while it is sadly weakening among the young.
May these mature readers continue to thrive!