The best cities in the world for book lovers

Lost in the stacks.
Lost in the stacks.
Image: Reuters/Amr Abdallah
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The streets of Edinburgh and Hong Kong are overflowing with books. Istanbul and Singapore, less so.

Every year the World Cities Culture Forum collects information on how people consume culture around the world. The organization looks at factors like how many video game arcades a city has, or how much a city forks over for movie tickets each year. Led by the London mayor’s office and organized by UK consulting company Bop, the forum asks its partner cities to self-report on cultural institutions and consumption, including where people can get books.

Over the past two years, 18 cities have reported how many bookstores they have, and 20 have reported on their public libraries.

Hong Kong leads the pack with 21 bookshops per 100,000 people, though last time Buenos Aires sent in its count, in 2013, it was the leader, with 25. New York does OK, with around 840 bookstores for 8.4 million people, but London, whose population is only slightly bigger than New York, counts only 360 stores.

When it comes to libraries per capita, Edinburgh leads by quite a bit: The city reported 60 libraries for every 100,000 people. Even going back more than two years, to include cities with older data, Edinburg blew everywhere else out of the water. It has around 300 libraries total, in a city of half a million. By comparison, Hong Kong  has around 300 libraries for 7 million people.

Of the cities that reported their library counts, Dubai and Istanbul lagged.

Since cities self-report their data, there’s no way to enforce uniform definitions for what constitutes a bookstore. Drug stores in the US sell books, for example, as do stationery stores elsewhere, and data from New York comes from the Yellow Pages. Says Yvonne Lo, a coordinator at the forum, ”We very much rely on the city to update the data and provide us the data.”