Practically an entire army: around 13 million Italians live in municipalities without bookstores. This figure, which is alarming yet not surprising, comes from a study published in December by the Italian Editors Association (AIE)’s research center.
The investigation shows that 21.1% of residents in communities with a population greater than 10,000 do not live near a bookstore (excluding stationery shops, newsstands, and shopping centers with bookstores that serve as catchment areas). To put it another way, in Italy today there are 687 municipalities with more than 10,000 people (8.6% of all municipalities) that do not have a bookstore.
The percentage of communities without bookstores rises in the South and on the Islands: 15.1% of municipalities (with 10,000+ inhabitants) in Sicily and Sardinia, and a whopping 33.3% of those in the South (more than 1 out of 3!), lack bookstores.
This is also the case in the Northeast, where 20.5% of communities (1 out of 5!) do not have a bookstore. This picture is even more grim if we take into account the troubles that Italian bookstores face. In towns and cities that have bookstores, these shops encounter several problems: closures, market fluctuations, high rent costs, and competition from online bookstores (not to mention the waning popularity of books in general) are all everyday issues.
What’s more is that things look even gloomier for school libraries: around half a million children (486,928) attend schools that don’t have libraries. This breaks down to 262,000 primary school students, 147,000 junior high school students, and 77,000 high school students. Roughly 3.5 million students attend schools with below-average library funding, which reduces the reading options available to them. Unfortunately, these figures (aside from being problematic themselves) often portend of other serious issues. For example, there is a proven correlation between a lack of bookstores and reading rates.
As AIE research center head Giovanni Peresson explains, “in metropolitan areas and larger urban centers (50,000+ populations) where bookstores and library services are more concentrated and widely available, 51.1% and 44.4% of residents (respectively) claim to read books. Leaving these urban areas and looking at the suburbs, this percentage drops to 42.8% (in spite of the relative ease of access to those city center areas).”
Then reading rates drop according to the sizes of city centers: 38.1% of the population are book readers in communities with 10,000-50,000 inhabitants; 39% in places with 2,000 to 10,000 inhabitants; and finally, down to 35.4% in the (numerous) towns with less than 2,000 residents.
“And it’s no coincidence that over the past 5 years readership has declined in smaller towns (-15.3%, compared to the national average of -9.1%),” said Peresson. “Whereas, in metropolitan areas, this drop is only -3.1% (rising to -5.1% in the suburbs).”
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