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MILAN (Reuters) - Nowadays when people spend more and more time exploring the depths of cyber space or just watching TV, every effort counts to bring them back to the traditional pleasure of reading.
A leading Italian book store chain Feltrinelli and wine-makers Santa Margherita from northern Italy decided six years ago to join forces to promote reading in their own way.
They set up a short story contest for amateur writers on a subject related to wine, where the three winners have their works published on the back of wine bottles.
"We asked ourselves: why not try to marry the art of wine-making with the art of literature? ... That's how this contest was born," Santa Margherita's Chief Executive Ettore Nicoletto told Reuters at a recent prize award for the contest.
This year, the winners will see their short stories published in the form of tiny booklets attached to the back of Santa Margherita's 700,000 bestselling bottles which are about to go on sale in Italy, Nicoletto said.
"People read very little in Italy ... If we manage to stimulate reading with this contest, with these easy but very moving short stories, we can be satisfied because we helped to promote reading among common people who buy bottles of wine for their dinner," he said.
Just under 47 percent of Italians read at least one book not related to their work or studies in a year, according to a survey conducted by Italy's statistics agency ISTAT in 2010.
Even if the figure is up from some 45 percent in 2009, it still means that more than half of Italians do not manage to read even one book a year which is not imposed by their work or study duties.
One Italian family out of 10 does not have a single book at home, the survey showed.
ISTAT did not provide comparisons with other countries, but Feltrinelli's spokesman Paolo Soraci told Reuters that Italians read less than other Europeans.
"When these bottles hit supermarket shelves, they will reach a public who perhaps is not that used to going to book stores, not that used to reading," Soraci said.
The contest's popularity has grown over the years with about 800-1,000 short stories written in Italian sent to a special dedicated website a year, Nicoletto said.
Organisers are now thinking about extending the contest beyond Italy and launching it on Santa Margherita's key markets in Europe, the United States and Canada, Nicoletto said.
Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Paul Casciato