There's no shortage of causes to make you depressed these days if you are a publisher. You read about Richard & Judy's successor, a Twitter-based book club run by Amanda Ross's brother-in-law, the film critic and presenter Jonathan Ross. You read about independent bookshops being shut down every day, Waterstone's cutting staff, Borders being on its last legs, a new Kindle reader being launched. And then, as if that is not enough, you get some sobering, deeply depressing official figures about the publishing industry. There's an interesting article in the Bookseller online today about the number of books published in US and UK by traditional publishers and self-published authors last year. The results, if they are to be believed, are as follows:
US title output in 2008 was 275,232 (new titles and editions), down 3.2% from 284,370 in 2007. In addition to these, around 285,394 "on demand" books "were produced last year" [italic mine – I like the choice of word], up 132% compared to 2007. The number of new books published in the UK in 2008 was, on the other hand, a pitiful 120,947 – we have a long way to go to match our American cousins. If I interpret the figures correctly, around 17% of the books "traditionally" published in US in 2008 were fiction titles – fiction representing by far the largest component.
Looking at these figures, if you are a small publisher of any integrity, you can only reach for the gun – perhaps after writing a short note saying: "I published 15 of those 275,232 new titles". Clearly, considering how much paper is wasted on all this books – and not mentioning any other kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic waste connected to the publishing industry – there is a strong argument that a very large percentage of these books could go digital without making the world any poorer.
The only problem is... where to start?