Sunday, September 30, 2007

Does This Count?

I am always surprised when I hear figures tossed around for the numbers of books published each year. I can remember twenty years ago when I was surprised to hear the number 40,000 used, so you can imagine what I thought when the figure went up to 150,000. Recently I've heard even bigger claims.

Now, I understand that the number of books being published each year has gone up for two reasons. One, traditional publishers don't keep books in print as long as they used to, but once they've let all those books go out-of-print, they have to replace them with more books in order to have a list to sell. Thus they're publishing more but stocking them for a shorter period of time. (The tax laws changed in the seventies, and publishers now have to pay tax on the stock in their warehouses. They can't pay tax year after year on books that aren't selling a certain number of copies.) Two, technological advances make self-publishing much easier, and it has also become more acceptable so more writers are going that route.

Over the last couple of years, my very local paper has carried a number of stories about people who self-publish books, publishing just a couple of hundred copies that they sell in town and to friends and family. Today I met a woman who said she'd written a children's book and that the illustrator had had it published. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I didn't know how to ask politely. What came out in the conversation, though, was that the illustrator had had the book published so they could take copies to a tiny local bookstore that does a lot of events with self-published writers. My impression was that the illustrator had had books published for one signing.

So, my question is, when we see articles about the huge glut of books being published every year, are books like the ones I described above included in the figures? I'm not saying that they should or shouldn't be included, but, if they are, what does that mean? If anything at all?

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, those short-run print-on-demand books are included in the 150,000+ figure for all books published in a year. The easiest way to count all published books is to total the ISBNs used in a year, and print-on-demand titles have ISBNs.

(In fact, large publishers often assign ISBNs to their cardboard displays, catalogues, and other printed material, so as to be able to account for them all within one warehouse system. That means those are and have always been included in the "total titles" figures.)