Reading between the lines

Reading between the lines

Mark reads regularly with his children. He doesn’t enjoy it particularly. In fact, he finds it challenging, because he isn’t a confident reader himself. But he does it because he wants his children to learn, to get ahead, to have chances that perhaps weren’t available to him.

Sarah also reads regularly with her children. She does it because it’s a cosy, special time; because reading is part of the family landscape, because her young children love her silly voices and actions.

Clare, on the other hand, rarely reads with her children. Like Mark, she finds reading challenging; unlike Sarah, she doesn’t see opportunity in reading; she only experiences intense discomfort. She doesn’t like stepping out of her comfort zone, is reticent to try new things, to put herself in a situation that she is unfamiliar with. She is confident that her children don’t like reading; they get bored, switch off and, are perhaps relieved, she doesn’t pursue it.

Mark and Clare aren’t real people, but their personas are based on in-depth knowledge that BookTrust has gained through a recent research project. As anyone interested in children’s reading will know, there are many assumptions about who enjoys reading and who doesn’t; about how to engage families in reading; about what will motivate them to make reading part of family life. Some evidence suggests that there are socioeconomic correlations between those who read and those who don’t, but our knowledge is sketchy.

Until now. Because as a charity whose sole purpose is to get children reading, it’s important to us that we know, really know, who is reading and who isn’t, why they do and why they don’t, and how we might change their attitudes and behaviours. Which is why we commissioned consultancy Discovery to conduct a major piece of research, segmenting reading behaviour across the country. The results are fascinating.

The segmentation was developed from the perspective of the family, and split by two key age groups: 0–6 and 7–16. This resulted in 12 segments across four levels, from highly engaged to not yet engaged. While there are demographic differences at play, the key driver of what segment a family sits in is not socioeconomic background, but rather a conflation of their attitudes towards reading for pleasure and, generally, towards other hobbies, interests and day-to-day activities and the motivation of that interest.

The 12 segments give us an interesting insight into family dynamics and knock many assumptions we might have held. For instance, "Goal-focused strivers" (in the Engaged category) are more likely to be non-white, with an extended family living with them—and 30% have a learning disability. Meanwhile, one of our most engaged segments (Early Enthusiasts) are more likely to be social grade C1 (broadly, lower middle class) than A or B (upper middle or middle class).

So what can we do with this knowledge? As a reading charity, we’re already using this research to inform our campaigns and programmes. We want to help our programme partners—the health visitors, librarians and others who engage with families—offer guidance on how to approach different attitudes to reading, along with sharing outputs such as segment descriptions and videos. We want to make sure the books we choose for our programmes address the needs and interests of children and families across all segments, or those of a specific segment we are targeting. And we want to consider the different segments before we design any campaign or programme, to ensure we understand who we are targeting and how we can create messages and resources that resonate with them.

For Mark, we want to help him find the joy in reading so that he and his children can start to see reading as something they "want" to do, instead of something that they "should" do. For Clare, we want to develop programmes that can build her confidence in reading with her children. For Sarah, we want to keep her reading and open up a treasure chest of books to ensure she can always find a wonderful "next" book to read with her kids. Each segment has its challenges, motivations and priorities; it’s our job to make sure we have some thing for each of them—whether that’s honing our Bath, Book, Bed campaign for Routine Followers, or continuing to target our Bookstart Corner programme for Early Familiarity Seekers.

But while we’re committed to doing everything we can, we can’t do it alone. Which is why we are hoping that the book trade will get involved. What can publishers and booksellers learn from this research and— perhaps more importantly—what can the industry do to reach some of the more challenging segments? That’s the challenge we are posing, and one which we hope some of you will come together to discuss at a BookTrust/The Bookseller breakfast later this spring. We want to start by tackling the Somewhat Engaged category, because we think that if we all work together we could achieve something really powerful.

But how are they best reached? How can we entice them to read more? Which kinds of books, and marketing, might they better respond to? We have many questions, and we now have some of the answers. We hope to hear some more answers from you.

Together, we really might make a difference.

Diana Gerald is BookTrust’s c.e.o