Rome, December 29 – Book readers in Italy continued to decline in 2016 to 40.5% from 42% the previous year, according to data published by Italian statistics bureau ISTAT this week in its annual report on reading and publishing in the country. Overall, 23 million people said they had read at least one book in 12 months in 2016, not strictly for professional reasons or for school, ISTAT said. Women were more inclined to read than men, since six years of age, according to the survey. A total of 47.1% of the women polled said they had read at least one book last year, compared to 33.5% of men. The group with the highest readership ranged in age between 11 and 14 (51.1%). The report also highlighted that the publishing sector in Italy remained dominated by very small publishing houses. Over 86% of active publishing houses in 2016 published no more than 50 books last year. Over half of these publishers – or 54.8% – were small companies with no more than 10 books out in a year while almost one-third (31.6%) were medium-sized publishers that put out between 11 and 50 books annually. Over half of small publishers specialize on a specific sector, ISTAT said. Big publishing houses – which released over 50 books a year – represented in 2016 only 13.6% of the sector yet covered over three-fourths (76.1%) of titles and almost 86% of circulation, the report said. ISTAT said that the publishing houses polled overall believed low readership in Italy is mostly caused by the population’s poor cultural level – according to 39.7% of those interviewed – and the lack of effective school policies to educate future readers – 37.7%. From a geographical standpoint, over 50% of active publishers in 2016 were located in the North with over one-fourth of major publishers based in Milan. The report also noted that book production in 2016 increased by 3.7% on the previous year, although circulation went down 7.1%. Also, publications for children and teens in 2016 grew 4.5% in terms of titles and 6.6% in terms of circulation compared to 2015. Fiction covered almost 85% of new publications, ISTAT said. Another trend highlighted in the report was the continual growth of the digital market with more than one in three books (some 22,000 titles) also available as an e-book, a percentage that rose to 53.3% for school books.