SCOTLAND has more literature festivals per capita than any other country in the world with more than 400,000 people attending book events in past year, according to research released today.
Bookfestival Scotland, a partnership funded by Creative Scotland and Scottish Borders Council, said the growth of book festivals north of the border was “phenomenal” with events ranging from the prestigious annual Edinburgh International Book Festival, which begins today, to smaller events in Shetland, Islay, Collonsay and the Borders.
Others include StAnza in St Andrews, focusing on poetry, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and Bloody Scotland, celebrating crime novels.
The report, which involved a survey of audiences throughout 2011, showed 424,889 people attended book festivals.
There are currently more than 40 established book festivals in Scotland with two more in the planning stages.
Edinburgh’s major book festival attracted the highest number of visitors – 192,000, followed by Aye Write in Glasgow, with 47,000 attendees. Wigtown, StAnza and Borders Book Festival each attracted between 13,000-15,000 visitors.
Paula Ogilvie, co-ordinator of Bookfestival Scotland, said the growth in festivals reflected not only the “thirst” for reading among Scots, but was also the result of the practical support her organisation could give to communities wanting to start a literary event of their own.
“When we started off in 2009, there were 15 book festivals in Scotland that we were aware of,” she said. “However, we were all sitting in our own little corners of Scotland and didn’t know what the others were doing. It made sense to pull together and give advice and support.
“What we aim to do is give advice on best practice, to help with finding the best dates in the calendar so that clashes are avoided, and we offer training to help with such disparate items as media management, marketing and health and safety. Since we began work, the sector has expanded significantly.”
Alistair Moffat, the director of Bookfestival Scotland, suggested the Scottish tradition of debate played a factor in the growing success of book festivals.
“Book festivals are nothing less than a cultural phenomenon in Scotland and their growth is remarkable. Perhaps Scots warm to good talk, to debate, and to the old-fashioned notion of congregation, of coming together to celebrate the written word.”
The research, commissioned by Creative Scotland, also showed festivals benefited local areas with 68 per cent of attendees living in the town or the area where the event took place. Of the 32 per cent of visitors, the average length of stay ran to 3.5 nights, bringing economic benefits to local businesses.
Gavin Wallace, of Creative Scotland, said: “As a nation we are replete with literary excellence and rich diversity across all genres. The Bookfestival Scotland report provides ample proof of Scotland’s remarkable love-affair with the written and spoken word.”
The majority (60 per cent) of those attending festivals were in the over 55s age range, 29 per cent were aged 35-55 while 11 per cent were between 18-25.
A number of festivals had separate children’s programmes and 84 per cent of attendees at children’s events were under 10 years of age.
Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “As we launch into another packed programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival it is heartening to see the growth of these events across the country.”