Readers in Sicily hold several negative records and in the last five years 2,300 bookstores have closed their doors in Italy. However, Istat data reveal how new generations still want to read. Where does the crisis come from? What can we do to reverse the trend?

In Sicily only one in four people read. This discouraging numerical insight by ISTAT 2018 would already shed light on the alarming picture of the regional educational poverty. However, it is aggravated by the fact that almost one in every two people reads in Sardinia, that is, a tendency almost in line with the national one. In the meantime, Italy is facing a difficult paradox to be solved: despite an increase in the book production and in the supply of titles, in the last five years 2,300 bookstores have been closed. What is the cause of this unfortunate decline? Which are the considerations needed to reverse the trend?

MISCONCEPTIONS. Contrary to what some hasty simplifications would suggest, the largest share of readers is represented by the young people, with a peak in the range between 15 and 17 years old. Despite what digital media could stimulate them to do, they continue (just like adults do) to prefer a paper-based reading medium (78.4%), so that only 7.9% of readers declare to rely exclusively on eBbooks. That, of course, allows us to demystify another strongly fashionable belief in the current debate on the theme, as the crisis in the book industry is not only due to the intrusive spread of ecommerce activity. The level of differentiation between traditional content and other ones, after all, is still basic: only 13.4% of eBooks have some difference and some additional features compared to the paper. A first interesting interpretative key could derive from that: the future of publishers, but also of libraries and bookshops, will depend on their ability to specialize and differentiate their offer. Can paper and digital continue to go hand in hand? They could, if only the cultural proposal to their users was carefully calibrated on the mean assigned to its circulation.

THE PROTECTION OF KNOWLEDGE. If young people like developing their knowledge and if printed books still play an important role in that, then how can we explain the recent closure of bookshops, from the oldest and most prestigious ones to the small and familiar small-town spots? First of all, a urgent need for a more widespread presence on the territory is necessary: this doesn’t certainly mean to emulate the model of the French village Bé­che­rel ‒ where there are fifteen bookshops for only 700 inhabitants ‒, but attempting at least to fill the gaps like they did in Porto Empedocle, where for a total of 17,000 citizens no library is there, in addition to the 686 cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants without libraries. Anyway, this is not enough. Once their presence is guaranteed, they will need to have true safeguards, that is, bookshops must not only be passive receptacles of volumes, but dynamic realities that know how to find readers. This is the gamble of project like Ambulanza Letteraria (Book Emergency Room): throwing books into reality, making them surprisingly nomad. That is important because, even before encouraging reading, we should transmit its value and its essential benefits for our lives. The editors’ admission, in this regard, is not surprising: only the 27.8% has made an effort to organize educational initiatives in schools, libraries and bookshops. Perhaps, beyond the objective institutional improvements to be applied to the publishing system, the point is right here: learning ow to network. That means to be able to involve those who are outside the threshold of one’s own shop with enthusiasm, by not giving a purchasing advice, but a reason to step in.

Translated by Daniela Marsala