Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Reports of the death of books are greatly exaggerated

Book publishing and sales are not in decline. However, the forms of their delivery are changing radically, as I have pointed out here repeatedly.

Editor and publisher Peter Osnos, writing in The Atlantic:
Robert Darnton, the Harvard librarian and our preeminent writer about books from the perspective of history, has a fascinating piece in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education that, among other observations, demolishes the notion that books overall are in inexorable decline. Darnton quotes 2009 numbers provided by Bowker, the data agency for publishing, which records 288,355 new and reissued titles and speculates that the numbers for 2010 and 2011 will show continuing increases; a further 764,448 titles in 2009 fell into a "nontraditional" category of self-published, micro-niche, and print-on-demand books, according to Bowker. "However it is measured," Darnton wrote, "the population of books is increasing, not decreasing and certainly not dying". . . .

In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal survey on self-publishing concluded that e-book titles priced as low as 99 cents are making an increasing impact on the market. Jeffrey Trachtenberg, the newspaper's respected publishing reporter, wrote: "As digital sales surge, publishers are casting a worried eye towards the previously scorned self-published market. Unlike five years ago, when self-published writers rarely saw their works on the same shelf as the industry's biggest names, the low cost of digital publishing coupled with Twitter and other social-networking tools, has enabled previously unknown writers to make a splash". . . .

For those of us in all aspects of publishing, these are heady times--which is a mix of dizzying, exciting, and to be candid, somewhat intimidating, given the pace of transformation and the unknowable consequences of so dramatic a period of upheaval. One outcome is certain--there will be books and they will be read, one way or another.
Read it all.

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