Malcom X was wrong when he said, "If you want to hide something, put it in a book," at least going by Nairobi residents.
In a recent study by data firm Stadi Analytics and the Writers Guild Kenya (WGK), at least 85 percent of residents living in Nairobi, Kenya, read regularly and more than half do so daily. The reading culture, defined by frequency of reading, genres read, mode of reading and the materials read as well as the amount spent on them monthly, was found to be significantly influenced by a number of factors including income, gender, and age.
Women, for instance, prefer to read fictitious materials while men read more of the non-fiction genre, mostly books, magazines and newspapers. Generally, books are the most read materials by 86 percent of Nairobians, followed by newspapers at 36 percent. Older people — those aged above 45 years — were also found to be more frequent readers than younger ones, despite the fact that age doesn’t affect monthly expenditure on reading materials.
Elias Muhatia, data scientist at Stadi Analytics who led the survey, told The EastAfrican the results suggest that people develop better reading habits as they grow older as shown by more frequent reading among older people. "Income is also a significant influencer of reading habits according to our observation. Those with a higher income spend more on reading materials and also read more frequently," Muhatia said.
On average, the study found, Kenyans spend about Ksh1,328 ($10.46) on reading materials monthly, although the majority of the respondents said they spend at least Ksh1,000 ($7.88) on books monthly. This might be related to the number of books people read every month, as the survey showed 41 percent read just one book monthly, while 4.9 percent read up to five books a month and a newspaper daily.
The survey also explored the format in which Nairobians access their reading materials, revealing that 58 percent prefer physical copy while the rest prefer electronic formats. According to Muhatia, this also influences reading habits as those who preferred soft copy materials were less frequent readers than those who prefer hard copy books or newspapers.
"We think this is because those reading electronically use mobile phones and are easily distracted by notifications, which negatively affect their reading habits," Muhatia said.
According to the survey, a vast majority of Nairobi residents (69 percent) do not belong to reading groups or book clubs and this also impacted individual reading habits.
Gabriel Dinda, WGK’s Executive Director, said this survey, inspired by the need to find the truth about Kenyans’ reading culture through scientific research, would encourage Kenyan writers to keep writing because "people are reading."
"We have always believed that people are reading in Kenya, and they are giving more attention to books than before, but we’ve never had the data or research to back it up," Mr Dinda said. "With this study, we have proved it and we have now learnt what nature of materials Kenyans read and how. Writers now know which age group or genre to target."
But since the study was done only in Nairobi, which represent the more affluent and elite population of Kenya, both Dinda and Muhatia admit that it might not paint the perfect picture of the situation in the entire country.
"We must acknowledge that the results don’t paint exactly the perfect picture of the situation even in Nairobi itself. We admit a little bias because we surveyed people electronically," Muhatia said, adding that going forward, they will sample respondents more randomly.
According to Dinda, the study isn’t complete until they have surveyed the rest of the regions in the country to establish that indeed, Kenyans are reading.
The small number of Nairobi residents who read for exams said they are too busy with their daily activities to read, while others said reading is boring. Other reasons why people don’t read were loss of concentration, lack of interest and motivation, and social media addiction.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican.