Do Singaporeans Still Read?

From Kinokuniya, Times, MPH, Page One to Popular itself, the bookstores in Singapore are dying like flies.

With the rise of rental rates, competition from online retailers and rapid digitalisation, the brick and mortar bookstores that we’ve come to adore are barely staying afloat. A 2016 National Arts Council (NAC) survey reveals that a lack of time and interest are the most common reasons for not reading. Majority of the 1,015 Singaporeans and permanent residents polled also expressed a preference for online pursuits to reading books.

As a 25-year-old millennial myself, I am ashamed of my reading habits. Despite having a great passion for words and being known as a “books-hoarder” in my social circles, these days I barely find myself flipping through a traditional, physical book. I cite the irresistible allure of online platforms such as Facebook (memes, anyone?) and Instagram as my biggest reasons for not reading newspapers and print books.

To update myself on current affairs, I often sieve through the online platforms for nuggets of news, and occasionally visit The Straits Times, TODAYonline and Channel News Asia for more legitimate sources of information.

To re-inculcate a habit of reading, I stopped frequenting bookstores so I couldn’t buy a new book (books-hoarder alert) before finishing the ones on hand!

Photo Credit: Crate

According to a Forbes article, the average attention span of a millennial is a whopping 12 seconds, and for Gen Z, it’s just 8. These are the generations that grew up in a digital world, exposed to the information onslaught from wherever they are. There’s always something begging for their attention – be it an ad on a train, an online sales promotion, or even when they are mindlessly browsing through Instagram for the latest fashion-inspos. Information is fleeting, and younger readers are becoming more attention-scattered.

The abundance of technology affects not just the youths. As people are increasingly plugged into their digital devices in an always-connected world, their attention spans dip.

With the trap of digitalisation, is this the end of print?  

Photo Credit: The Independent Singapore

Well, hope is not all lost.

Singapore’s literacy scene is experiencing a resurgence with events and festivals such as the annual Singapore Writers Festival, Read! Fest, and even a bookstore sleepover with Booksactually, a 24-hrs event with performances, panel discussions and readings lined up.

The annual Singapore Writers Festival is one of Asia’s premier literacy events, celebrating some of the world’s major literary talents, with a keen focus on writers from Singapore and Asia. First started in 1986, it has since grown in strength over the years, attracting large crowds of avid readers, or those looking to pick up a book while basking in the festive ambience.

Despite accelerating the demise of physical bookstores, the emergence of technology and new media have brought about new possibilities in e-books. A 2018 National Reading Habits Study reveals that people in Singapore are reading more books, magazines and newspapers – in both print and digital formats.

Photo Credit: The Straits Times

Perhaps the next time you decide to reach for your device and step into the online universe, why not flip a newspaper or book instead?

I will do the same.

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