Olga Dawidowicz-Chymkowska Stability and Volatility of the Textual World - Choices Made by Book Readers and Buyers

Quantitative data: reference points for the popularity rates of particular literary categories

There are two methods of presenting data on the popularity of the different literary categories. The first one shows the share of the respective categories in the areas of interest of the entire society (i.e., what share of all respondents read or buy books in a given category). The second method presents the same data, but with reference to the areas of interest for book readers or buyers only (i.e., what share of all book readers read books in a given category, what share of all book buyers are the respondents who listed books from a given category). In the first perspective, the changes that could be observed result from two mutually overlapping factors, the shifts in the overall level of declared book readership and purchasing, and the periodical shift of interest of both book readers and buyers towards various types of literature. In the second perspective, only the second factor, periodical shift in interest, has an impact.

The first method is preferable for presenting the level of interest in literature in the entire population (how many people were interested in a given category at a given time). Certainly, this is a worthwhile objective, but, as was said above, the collected data would hinder such estimates because of the open-ended questions about book reading and buying, which then leads to incomplete responses. What can be determined with certainty on the basis of the collected declarations is the ranking of the different types of texts by Polish readers and buyers of books in 2010 and earlier. Furthermore, certain trends can be discerned in the areas of interest for readers and buyers alike (which texts were prevailing over others and which areas of interest were gaining readers’ attention in a given period).

With these objectives set, it is less useful to gauge the popularity of book categories by estimating the percentages of the population who read them because it blurs the actual trends that interest us, making them less clear and more difficult to distinguish from the other factors. Therefore, we decided that the whole population of book readers and buyers will serve as the main reference point in this part of the study.

We must point out that this choice entails a different reference point from the one used in Part I of this report, whose main area of interest was the distribution of readers of the different types of texts in the entire population. Our choice of the new reference point in this part of the study will cause the growth and decline curves representing interest in the different types of literature not to follow the previously described (Part I) growth/decline outcomes in the overall book readership and buying. Instead, they will show changes occurring in the reader and buyer groups regardless of these groups’ actual size.

An overview of book readers’ and buyers’ choices in Poland

To conclude this introduction, let us briefly explain the system of presenting the data in this part of the report. The collected data were organized in several ways in order to develop a multifaceted panorama of the literature that Poles choose.

First, Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 describe the roles of the types of books in the reader and buyer declarations on the basis of pre-defined literary types, customary usage and thematic categories. In the case of each category, the entire scope of the information collected in 2010 will be compiled and compared with the previous years (to the extent possible), with due consideration given to such information as the frequency of choices per category, respondents’ social groups, and the characteristics of the specific authors and titles recalled by the respondents. The entire body of knowledge thus obtained will be put to use to discern the literary and social issues, which are crucial for better understanding of the trends occurring in a given area of readership and buying in each category. Combined, this information should create a “landscape” of the book world in which Poles live today.

However, this method of organizing the data does not answer some questions. To that end, we have chosen to deploy an additional structural division of the data on hand with two supplemental analyses.

Chapter 6 investigates correlations between book choices and such demographic variables as the gender, age, education and place of residence of respondents. The social profile of readers and buyers has already been mentioned in the descriptions of the types of  literature, yet such information is worth further analysis that would not look for the type of readers of a type of literature, but rather the choice of literature specific to a given type of reader. This evaluation shows which books are most interesting to different social groups and how the discovered differences in reading behaviours are correlated (as an effect and a cause) with the major differences in society.

Last but not least, Chapter 7 attempts to summarize the entire information about the transformations that have been observed in readership over the past 20 years so as to draw a history of trends in areas of interest to Poles.