Are there just too many books published today, and is it affecting us as both readers and writers?
The top three countries producing book titles annually today are, China with 440,000, US with 304,912 and the UK with 184,000 books. Every year between them they annually publish around 1,000,000 books. Of course a lot of those books will be academic and law books, and it also includes reissued and revised editions, but even so that seems like an awful lot of books to read, and outside of the best sellers list, how many readers on average does each book get? Another interesting statistic is that the UK is the largest publishing country per capita, which equates to around 2,900 books per million inhabitants, with twenty new books being released every hour. Amazon seems to be the go to place at the moment for books, and I openly admit that I do much of my shopping and browsing there for books too, but with 34 million titles available, I am asking the question, do we just have too many books?
2,300 years ago, the lost Library of Alexandra was believed to have stored around 700,000 scrolls, the equivalent of 100,000 books today, and each one had to be written out rather than printed, so that was an awful lot of work, but you could say that the UK alone now produces more than the equivalent of that lost library every year, but I hasten to add the quality and wisdom of what is produced in the UK every year, must be much lower than that lost library of so long ago. However I admit, that is something we shall never truly know, but scholars have done a lot of research to suggest that those scrolls probably represented the knowledge of man up to that point, in its almost entirety, for Alexandra the Great sourced scrolls to be copied from all around the world.
The point I’m trying to make however is, with all of these books released every year, are we not simply diluting the sea of literature with lesser works, and therefore bringing down the quality of literature as a whole, and is it possible, amid all of these books, to find the one that talks to us? And if we readers, as existing or potential authors, are unable to find the books that truly work for us, are we then also weakening the future of literature, as a result of not being inspired by the books that we read.
But how can I say that, when I am a book lover? How can I say that, when I am an aspiring author myself? But that is not the point. I am not saying that these books should not be published, I’m just pointing out the fact that it is harder than ever to find the books we want to read, and even harder to be satisfied that the book we are currently reading is worthy of our time when there are so many other books to choose from. But I guess that is also the point. Choosing a book should not be done by looking at covers, or indeed from reputation alone, or from the strength of just one person’s review. I think instead it should be all of these things in equal measure. With the advent of self-publishing, there are now more books than ever hitting the virtual shelves, and what upsets me most is not that a lot of these books are bad, but that they are really quite good, and that they get lost. The traditional publishing route is harder to get into, but now even if you do get published that way, it is more than likely that you will have to do much of your own promotion anyway, and as a reader, how likely am I to be reached by your publicity, when social media is full of so many authors wanting people to buy their book? And of course many authors will even offer it to you for free. But no book is free of time. Every book takes time to read, and whether it is free or not, really isn’t the point. Everybody’s time is a precious commodity, and for every book you do give your time to, a million others are going unread.
So I guess I’ve just painted a reality that is really quite sad for both readers and writers, but I want to end with an enlightening and uplifting point. My conclusion is that, no, there aren’t too many books published today. For one thing that is completely out of anybody’s control, certainly out of the hands of individual readers, and I don’t think less books would solve the problem. Taking from a smaller pool of literature, or reducing the opportunities to publish is likely to mean that some wonderful works, maybe even some potential classics, will slip through the net. So if we cannot change the volume of books that get published, then we must instead change our policy on how we find the books we read. I have taken to reading reviews, reading samples, looking at ratings online, looking at book covers, listening to what the authors themselves are saying about their books, refining the type of genres that I love most, and doing all of these things just to find my next read. That is all we can do in a market so saturated by the highs and lows of literature, and hopefully with all of these measures in place, we can find the treasures hidden among the deep and ever darkening ocean of literature that is available to us all.