Unesco is pointing to a “mobile reading revolution” in developing countries after a year-long study found that adults and children are increasingly reading multiple books and stories on their phones.

Nearly 5,000 people in seven countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe — took part in the research, the largest study of its kind to date, which found that 62 per cent of respondents are reading more, now they can read on their mobile phones. One in three said they read to children from their mobile phones, and 90 per cent of respondents said they would be spending more time reading on their mobile phones in the next year.

The study, says Unesco in its report, found that “people read more when they read on mobile devices, that they enjoy reading more, and that people commonly read books and stories to children from mobile devices”.

“The study shows that mobile reading represents a promising, if still under-utilised, pathway to text,” says the report, for which Unesco partnered with Worldreader — a global not-for-profit organisation that works to bring digital books to readers around the world — and Nokia.

The report’s author Mark West said that the key conclusion from the study was that “mobile devices can help people develop, sustain and enhance their literacy skills”.

Reasons given by respondents for reading on mobiles were convenience, affordability and lack of access to books. In Zimbabwe, Unesco said the cost of reading a book on a mobile was between 5 and 6 cents, while a paperback bestseller would cost around $12. Unesco pointed to data from the U.N., which shows that of the seven billion people on earth, more than six billion now have access to a working mobile phone.

The survey also found that mobile reading is a “huge tool of empowerment for women”, said Worldreader’s Nadja Borovac. While 77 per cent of mobile readers in developing countries are male, women spend an average of 207 minutes per month reading on their mobile phones, compared to men’s 33 minutes. “Men use mobiles for reading most, but the most active readers are women,” said Ms. Borovac. She said that mobile reading was “not a future phenomenon, but something which is happening today”. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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