Digital reading, audiobooks dominate China's Gen Zers' reading habits and online literature goes global, says new report
Digital reading, audiobooks dominate Gen Zers’ reading habits and online literature goes global
Published: Apr 21, 2024 09:13 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Days before World Book Day on April 23, the Global Times Institute and China Literature released the Generation Z Digital Reading Report on Saturday, outlining the digital reading habits of Gen Zers (generally referring to people who were born after 1995) from dimension such as geographical distribution, reading behavior, and content preferences, presenting the new digital reading trends among Gen Zers in 2023. 

Gen Zers have become the ­backbone of digital reading, says the report. Taking China Literature, which owns online literature platforms like QQ Reading and Qidian, as an example, Gen Zers accounted for 43 percent of new users in 2023, and read an average of 28 books annually. Additionally, the report pointed out that online literature has driven a new trend of reading and promoted digital reading in line with global trends. 

Reading 28 books is "promising," Zhang Yiwu, a Chinese language and literature professor at Peking University, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

Unlike readers from previous generations that are hugely reliant on hard copy reading materials for information, Zhang said that Gen Zers are "gifted" at using the internet and online reading platforms have broaden the "diversity" of their reading choices. 

"Gen Z readers read no less than us back in the day, and they probably read more compared with us due to the abundance of books online," Zhang emphasized. 

Graphic: Liu Xidan/GT

Graphic: Liu Xidan/GT

Classic, still classic 

In 2022, more than 80 percent of Chinese people read through digital means, an increase of 0.5 percentage points from the previous year, according the 20th National Reading Survey released by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication on April 23, 2023. As people read about 4.78 paper books and 3.33 e-books on average, digital reading has increasingly become the core force of national reading.

Among them, Gen Zers are the new force in digital reading as they read an average of 28 books throughout the year, with an average reading time of 83 minutes per day. 11 pm, 10 pm, and 12 noon are the peak reading periods. From a geographical perspective, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Henan and Shandong are the top five provinces where Gen Zers love to read.

What kinds of books are young people reading? 

Young adult literature, classic literature, history, psychology and philosophy are the five most popular published book categories. Their favorite books include: The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, and The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga.

It is worth mentioning that the "book-film linkage" effect brought about by blockbuster movies and TV shows has become increasingly significant. In 2023, with the popularity of The Three-Body Problem TV series and the movie The Wandering Earth 2, the number of readers following Liu Cixin's works on China Literature platforms increased by 63 percent. The popularity of the TV series The Knockout has driven Sun Tzu's book, The Art of War, mentioned in the show, to the top of the list of Chinese classics read by Gen Z. A total of nearly 900,000 people have added various versions of The Art of War to their bookshelves on the platform QQ Reading. 

In addition, during the screening of the hit series of Lost You Forever and Blossoms Shanghai, the reading volume of related original novels increased 24-fold and 61-fold respectively from the previous month.

Su Sang, a reader who was born in the 2000s in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, told the Global Times that as an art history student, he has discovered that digital books categorized under themes like "Chinese philosophy," "classic literatures," and "sci-fi" inspire him to write his postgraduate essays. 

"Although I read them mostly inconsistently, I have found that some content online is as professional as books at the library, and the best thing is that I can have them all at my fingertips," said Su. 

Along with the development of China's digital reading market, more and more professional and academic writers have joined in to contribute high-quality content. Zhang Yiwu, the professor, told the Global Times that China's digital reading market has the power to lead the sector's global developments. 

"China's digital reading market boasts diverse contents and some high-quality works in different niche areas. Such content has been largely shared among international readers, especially in recent years," Zhang remarked. 

New trends

With the booming development of digital reading platforms, Gen Z's reading style has undergone changes worth noting. The "social reading" scene created by reading and commenting at the same time inspired young people's enthusiasm for reading. The total number of comments made by Gen Z in 2023 reached 189 million, with a total word count of 4.08 billion. Many comments follow hot trends. For example, the keyword "AI" appears 336,000 times, "learning" appears 268,000 times, and "farming" appears 53,000 times.

Zhang told the Global Times that the "barrier-less" digital platform has amplified readers' voices online. Sharing Zhang's opinion, book industry analyst Jin Hong told the Global Times that readers' voices are a critical factor that "shapes future trends in the digital reading market." 

"Through the analyses of their reviews and buzzwords in their comments, the market, including digital book writers, can know what interests the public the most. If 'AI' is the keyword, then a platform can reshape its promotional and presentational schemes to better engage readers," Jin told the Global Times. 

In addition, listening to audiobooks has become another way for many young people to enjoy reading. Gen Z spent an average of 115 minutes listening to books every day in 2023, and Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Shenzhen are among the top five cities where people love listening to audiobooks.