Poll: Readers prefer digital to print

Chinese actress Chen Shu reads a book by Taiwan author Lung Ying-tai on Wednesday during an opening ceremony for a "Enjoy Reading, Enjoy Life" charity program encouraging reading and charitable giving around the world. The program was organized by China Daily, Beijing Service Bureau for Diplomatic Missions and Red-Flag Press. Wednesday marked the 19th World Book Day.

Digital devices are becoming the main channel that people choose to read and get daily news, according to a survey of taxi passengers in Shanghai, where bookshops are trying hard to attract customers.

China Daily conducted a poll of 169,122 people with Touchmedia, China's leading in-taxi media company, from April 1 to 10. Nearly 40 percent of people who responded to the survey cited the Internet and smartphone as their preferred reading formats, while 19.57 percent chose printed books.

Nearly half of those who were polled said they spent about two hours each day reading and that the most popular time of day for reading was before bed.

Even some hardcore printed-book lovers are spending more time on electronic reading. Zhou Pan, 28, a white-collar worker in Shanghai, said he reads at least four printed books every month and about 30 magazines in digital format.

"Actually, I also like reading on digital devices, which excel at displaying photos and multimedia, and are good for reading magazines and other hot topics on the Web," he said.

Last year, Zhou initiated a practice of lending his 136 books freely to strangers in the subway, calling for commuters to read real books instead of staring at digital devices.

"People are more likely to immerse themselves in reading when they are holding actual books - in the process there is much thinking and retrospection - while digital devices have too much to offer, which actually disturbs reading," he added.

In the survey, 22.21 percent of respondents agreed that an overload of online content can be distracting or stressful. Additionally, 23 percent said they believe that digital devices do more harm to the eyes.

But Yang Yujie, a 25-year-old employee at an advertising company in Shanghai, said she has read more since getting a smartphone two years ago.

"My job is so demanding that it is hard for me to spend a big chunk of time reading books. But with a smartphone I can make use of all spare time, like waiting for the bus or after dinner, to read the abundant content on the Internet," she said.

Her experience was reflected in the poll results, in which 30 percent of the respondents cited more timely use and a wealth of information, and 20.55 percent cited greater convenience, as the major advantages of digital reading.

Facing the changing reading habit, some bookshops are struggling to attract readers by building their brands and focusing on niche readers.

Zhongshuge Bookshop, which opened last April, has been dubbed the most beautiful bookshop in Shanghai. The design and decoration cost up to 10 million yuan ($1.62 million) to create an artistic reading environment, according to Fang Jun, the store's general manager.

Fang said the bookshop, which had been projected to generate a profit in three years, is doing better than expected, with average monthly revenue of about 200,000 yuan.

There are about 40,000 books in the bookshop, and 25 percent are not available in online stores, a fact that Fang hopes will attract readers to the brick-and-mortar store.

The bookshop established reading clubs for readers under 20 and for senior readers. There are also regular parties for entrepreneurs to share and review books.

"All the events do not directly generate revenues, but they add value to our brand," Fang said.

He added that the store plans to build a digital reading area in the bookshop where readers can search and read trial chapters with digital devices. They can ask shopkeepers to find the book for them once they decide to buy it.

"The reading habits and spending habits of our customers have changed, and we need to adjust to the change," he said。