Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Number Crunching...

Remember last week when I was bitching about the number of books we (by which I mean publishers) continue to produce each year? Well, in next Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Rachel Donadio tackles the issue (she obvi reads Slunch for her story ideas). Apparently, I was wrong about 300,000 books being published each year. That was in 2006. Last year? 400,000. Yeah, that’s right. 400,000. And while I was talking in relation to book coverage, Rachel tackles an even more disturbing trend – 53% of Americans surveyed last year hadn’t read a single book.

Now, think about this. If the population of the United States in July 2007 was 301,139,947 (according to Google), than only about 140 million something of those people were reading. Which means, we’re publishing 1 book for every 350 people or so – I think. I haven’t taken math since high school, but I’m pretty sure that’s right.

So, that doesn’t sound too bad, until you really start thinking about it. I mean, if you were working on a book, and it only sold 350 copies, I think you’d pretty much consider that a flop. And, yes, I know that many people who read will obviously pick up more than one book a year, but you also have to counter that many of these people are reading the SAME book, i.e. The Da Vinci Code, A New Earth, Eat, Pray, Love, or anything by Michael Connelly/James Patterson/David Baldacci, which all have millions of copies in print. Not to mention the fact that people aren’t confined to reading books published that year – we still have the classics and consistent backlist sellers to contend with. Which explains why, in 2006, 70% of books published ended up in remainder bins and only 1% hit the list.

I could go on, but I’m still on my first (iced – yay summer!) coffee and my head might explode. So, to summarize, the number of books we publish – UP. The number of readers – DOWN. Oh, also, there’s a recession, and despite the theory that books are recession proof, it’s still going to hurt, especially with the shitty dollar. Maybe we should all take a closer look at Jonathan Karp’s business plan before we destroy ourselves and the business.


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