By Johann Foucault
Reading among young people aged 15-20 is a major issue for the future of our society. Indeed, while our societal model has been constructed by books and reading, the question arises more and more as to whether today’s young people will still read tomorrow: what will be their relation to the paper and digital book ? How much time will they devote to reading compared to video games and series?
The Culture Pass, a good tool?
The French cultural public policies are thus seeking, through various devices, to encourage the younger generations to turn more to books and reading. Established in 2019 for high school students, the Culture Pass was extended in 2021 to 18-year-olds then in 2022 to classes of 4and and 3and. It is intended to promote the access of the younger generations to culture and in particular to books.
The recent activity figures for this system show the hit : 11,000 referenced cultural venues, nearly 3,000 partner bookstores, 6 million reservations, more than 50% of expenditure dedicated to books. These figures were accompanied by a chorus of praise for the positive effects of this cultural policy.
However, it is permissible to take a more critical look at the real impacts of this policy aimed at young readers. The question is therefore no longer “do they read?” but “what are they reading?” »
This analysis is neither “declinist” nor alarmist about today’s young people but aims to take a lucid and objective look at their reading practices through the prism of the Culture Pass.
In the 22 first sales of the Pass Culture of the year 2021, we find 15 mangas, 5 novels and 2 school legal works. The diagnosis is implacable: manga is king. Introduced in France at the beginning of the 1990s, this form of comic strip of Japanese origin published in the form of a serial has been a real success for about fifteen years. Carried by a generational phenomenon and a very effective marketing policy, France has become one of the most important markets in the world for manga. It is not only at the top of Pass Culture sales but since the health crisis, its sales have been boosted.
Manga occupy the first 11 places in the ranking. The share of manga in the top 22 is 95% with more than 1.4 million copies sold. The weight of these sales is such that these series are very frequently sold out by the publisher, generating anxiety in the management of bookstore stocks.
At the top, come the great manga series: One Piece with more than 300,000 copies sold, demon slayer with 191,000 copies sold and finally The attack of the Titans with 186,000 copies sold. The podium with these three series represents more than 45% of the sales of the top 22.
Sales are thus hyper-concentrated on the manga and on the main series sold.
The weight of bestsellers
If we look more carefully at the series that have been purchased, we have to wait Death Note (ranked 8and rank with 72,000 copies sold, four times less than One Piece) to find a less “commercial” series. The main titles sold are in fact highly publicized series that are the subject of regular marketing campaigns (the recent collector’s copy of One Piece for example) and often relayed by animated series that many young readers also watch.
Far be it from us to pass judgment on the creative quality of these works: Berserk Where The attack of the Titans are thus formidable epics mixing adventure and philosophical reflection. But we want to emphasize the fact that there are very few non-mediatized manga in this ranking, testifying to the ultra-bestseller effect present in this list of books read by younger generations. And even Death Notewhich we mentioned above, is a cult series, known and recognized (it can be found in all college CDIs and all bookstores) and is often the subject of special reissues.
See the trailer for The attack of the Titansmanga also adapted in anime version:
Manga, YouTube and Netflix
The other books in the top 22 are an autobiography written by a famous youtuber (Always moreranked 16and with 11,600 copies), a historic series whose adaptation netflix is a success (The Bridgerton Chronicleranked 17and with 11,000 copies) or even a series of fantasy rewarded by several literary prizes for young people (The Mirror Passranked 22and out of 22 with 5,300 copies). In short, only best-sellers supported by the media.
We measure the differences with the best-selling manga, which each sell more than 100,000 copies, or more than 10 times more!
So of course, we cannot reduce the reading of young people to a list of 22 works which give a necessarily biased image. And of course, we can argue that a book read remains a book read, whatever it is, and that it is better to read a manga than nothing at all.
But it nevertheless gives an idea of what young generations prefer through this device, while the reading offer for young people, including classic comics, is plethoric and is not limited to manga, far from it. .
New customers for bookstores?
Another positive element of this device, undoubtedly, is the frequentation of bookstores by the younger generations and the raid on certain series. More than 400,000 young people have thus bought books thanks to the Pass Culture scheme.
We know that bookstores have always tried to attract young people and offer them an eclectic choice, through youth activities, through partnerships with schools and, of course, through their ability to offer novels that make you want . And we can therefore only be pleased to see young readers flocking to bookstores thanks to this public aid.
But is this attendance sustainable or is it only a temporary windfall effect? It is difficult to answer this question in the current state of affairs; only the longitudinal analysis of the data and the observation of reading practices will make it possible to measure the impacts of this cultural policy.
Not easy to retain
Feedback from local booksellers shows that it is not easy to retain this clientele whose consumerist behavior is more akin to channel surfing and the search for immediate satisfaction of need. Despite the tenacity of booksellers committed to promoting cultural diversity and their efforts, it is difficult to open up their reading horizon by offering other titles or other manga, less publicized.
As part of the Culture Pass, young audiences often come to buy a specific issue of a specific manga series; he is therefore less likely to postpone his purchase for another series recommended by booksellers. The role of parents and cultural capital can also be a key factor in the ability to open up to other readings.
These figures thus reveal a balance sheet in chiaroscuro:
clearly, because far from received ideas, young people still read and public cultural policies can have a real impact to support them,
but in obscurity, because despite everything, we measure the extent of the work still to be done to promote cultural diversity in the reading of the younger generations. It is therefore not easy to free oneself from consumerist influence, this is the whole issue of public policies and the work of bookstores.
By David PiovesanHDR Lecturer in Management Sciences, IAE Lyon School of Management – Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University
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