One Question Quiz
Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

BooksMay 4, 2023

How do we read in 2023?

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Ye olde paper book? Kindle? iPad? Jules Older set out to discover how we read in Aotearoa today.

At dinner, four of us were talking about how we read. Turns out, all four read differently:

  • Book (treebook, not ebook)
  • Kindle
  • iPad 
  • Audiobook

This got me wondering: how do other New Zealanders read? So I asked people from north and south, old and young. I sent them this questionnaire:

Tick one: 

▢ Only read treebooks

▢ Only read ebooks (on devices)

▢ Mix ‘em up (Percent on each? Thoughts?)

Pick one: 

If you read ebooks, do you read them on a…

▢ Phone (brand?)

▢ Tablet (brand?)

▢ Computer (brand?)

▢ Kindle

▢ I mainly ‘read’ audiobooks

Pick one:

▢ I buy books (treebooks and/or ebooks)

▢ I borrow from the library

▢ Both (rough percentage for each?)

Then I asked for their age, gender and where they live. To my considerable pleasure, I received well over 600 responses, the bulk of them from school kids. Responders’ ages ranged from eight to 82. 

So, in the early months of 2023, here’s how we read.


Among the respondents, 316 read only on paper, 56 read only ebooks, and 306 read both. A surprising 108 listen to audiobooks. As for digital readers, 119 read on an iPhone, 46 on Android, 27 on a tablet, 181 on a computer, and 107 on a Kindle. Where do they get their books? Some 387 buy them, 458 borrow from the library, and 114 swap with friends. 

Kids explained not only how they read but why they read. Here are some of their responses:

  • Reading is a great way to have fun and pass the time
  • It helps me learn
  • I don’t really like to read
  • I like to read to escape realty [sic]
  • I like to read because it is like a holiday in my head

Others explained how they read:

  • I like to read books made out of paper before going to bed every night. I also read books on Epic! not only at school but sometimes at home. I do both to get a mix of everything.
  • Feels like a treat holding a book
  • I like reading paper books because I can visibly track my process, and the light from computers can hurt my eyes if I’m reading at night
  • I read on the Kindle at night when I am going to bed because I can read it in the dark
  • I like owning physical copies of books that I enjoy, and I just generally prefer reading a physical book and flipping over the pages
  • Being able to read from a book rather than an ebook or audiobook allows me to retain more knowledge and a better understanding about the plot and story
  • I like to read ebooks because it has lots of comic books
  • i like to mix up the ways i read so that i dont get bored

To summarise, at least among Auckland school responders, paper reading still trumps e-reading, and a fair number of kids bounce between paper and screen. A smaller but impressive cohort listens to audiobooks. As for what kind of devices they read on, to my surprise, most use a computer. The iPhone is the next most popular device, followed by Kindle, tablet and Android. Most kids get their books from the library, a fair number buy them (or maybe their parents buy them), and — something I didn’t think of — a bunch of respondents swap books with friends. 

(My thanks to staff and students at Point Chevalier School and Mount Albert Grammar School for diligently distributing and filling out the questionnaire.)

Children reading in 1940. Russell Lee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


I found it much harder to find adult responders than school kids. One reason: Adults don’t have a teacher telling them, “Please take this survey. Now.”

The adults who did respond were as thoughtful as the kids about why they read the way they read. First, let’s look at the numbers; then, their comments. 

Eight women read only treebooks, three mix ‘em up, and two read ebooks. Five men read tree, 20 a mix, and only one reads ebooks exclusively.

There’s no real difference between North and South Island respondents. 

Generational differences?

Folks in their 20s and 30s still prefer treebooks, a smaller number mix tree and e, and only one reads ebooks exclusively. Those in their 60s through 80s are evenly split between treebookers and mixers. Not one said they only read on a device.

Buying vs. borrowing vs. sharing?

Most adult respondents mix it up: 22 said they buy, 15 borrow from the library, and five share with friends. Eight listen to audiobooks, about which they wax eloquent.

Device preferences?

As for what kind of screens adult digital readers read on, it’s another mix, with several choosing more than one device. Here are the numbers: iPad 3, Kindle 6, tablet 3, computer 4, and phone 3.

Here are some of their thoughts on why they read the way they do:

  • Have tried virtually every format but now limit myself to treebooks — a clear winner
  • Read on an HP tablet — very convenient when on travels and in bed
  • I prefer a real book. I think it’s because I work on screen, so when I read for pleasure, I like the real thing — I read the imprint page, look at how it’s been put together, look at the production. I like to feel the heft of a book, the quality of paper and so on. I also like visiting good bookstores, perusing the shelves, sometimes picking up a title on instinct, not knowing anything about the author or the book, but there’s something inexplicable that’s attracted me. I buy it. I like to support bookstores and indirectly, writers.
  • For a lot of people I know, podcasts have become one of their major “reading” activities
  • I buy new tree books, particularly if they are likely to be very popular (and the wait time at the library is likely to be long). We have a shared Kindle account so my wife, myself, and our overseas daughter can “share” a book over the waters without postal costs.
  • Resisted the Kindle for a long time but now am a convert. Plus, it’s the only way I can (afford to) keep my son in books!
  • I mainly “read” audiobooks.  I like to always have an audiobook going — I listen when I’m hiking, driving, knitting, folding laundry etc.
  • I enjoy buying books as gifts, and I pass secondhand books on to other people either as loans or gifts
  • I definitely prefer to hold a hearty paperback in my hands, but ebooks are fantastic if you’re travelling


In 2023, a hefty percentage of New Zealand kids and adults of all ages have become accustomed to digital reading. While some read only online and others pick up nothing but paper, many combine the two. 

At least from the wallets of those I surveyed, booksellers should be thriving. 

And rumours of their death notwithstanding, libraries are very much alive. New Zealanders rely on them for ebooks as well as treebooks. A fair number of readers also share, swap and give away their books.


I have but three.

The first is easy: More and more of us will get comfortable reading digitally. Not only does my research suggest this, but British and American research does too. In late 2021, ourculture e-magazine reported, “While books sales in all formats increased over 2020 and 2021, ebooks and audiobooks saw especially significant growth. Ebook sales increased 16.5% and audiobook sales increased 14.3% over the past year. The popularity of both formats will likely continue to grow.”

Second: Books made from trees will be with us for a long time to come. Whether they’ll still be a staple or something more like the literary equivalent of vinyl and film remains to be seen. But for now, overseas trends indicate that they’re still going strong. In The 21st Century Text, Naomi Curzon writes, “The printed book is still the most popular medium despite the growth in ownership of digital devices.” She also reveals, “Americans are still reading despite the digital devices and social media that are occupying more and more of our time and attention; and they are still reading books — in whatever form — at about the same rate as in 2002, before digital devices became ubiquitous.”

And third: The big change in future reading is that ears will soon be challenging, or even overshadowing eyes. Audiobooks, podcasts, voice notes — listening is the new reading. In this case, the survey respondents’ experience is backed by international trends. In 2019, Erica Wagner wrote, “Readers are finding new ways into text. No one can have missed the dramatic rise in the sales of audiobooks. Audible, the audiobook retailer and publisher, saw its revenue in the UK rise by 38 per cent in 2018: the year before, the company posted a 47 per cent sales increase.”

I say, expect more of that to come.

Keep going!