• The True Lies of Book Statistics

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    -Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

    -70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

    -The time Americans spend reading books 1996: 123 hours 2001: 109 hours

    -Used books were purchased by one out of ten book buyers in the previous nine months in 2002.

    -Used books account for $533 million in annual sales; 13% of the units sold and 5% of the total revenue. The heaviest book buyers buy more than one-third of their books used.

    -The largest-selling used books are: Mysteries, romance and science fiction. Used nonfiction sell best online.

    -A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies

    -1.5+ million titles in print (currently available in the U.S.) Since 1776 22 million titles have been published.


    The book industry statistics listed above are from a recent post at Dan Poynter's parapublishing.com. The original post has many more fascinating facts about the publishing industry, sales, the used book industry, reading, and much more. While I'm not fond of statistics, since they almost always seem counter to the actual reality I live and work every day, they do provide a certain interest and get the brain working.

    Statistics are useful lies that get us to thinking about the truth.

    For example, I'm not suprised that 70% of people have not been to a used bookstore in the last five years. Why? Because they spent the money they would have spent on books going to see Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Shrek and Spiderman. Plus, so many people think of reading books are something that is "hard" to do. You actually have to "read", whereas in the movie theatre or at home watching TV you just sit there and the movies do all the work. And it's so much easier to just look at big pictures rather than having to read words one after the other. I'm being cynical, of course. But I think you get my point.

    What's cheering about some of these facts (and I can attest to in my daily work at the bookstore) is that more people are reading than ever before. I'd rather they were reading Tolstoy than Nora Roberts, but at least folks are reading. And while the statistics suggest that older people are more likely to frequent used bookstores, this is not the case in my experience. In my 30+ years of bookselling, I've always seen a large turn out of young people. Of course, they are sometimes there because they have to pick up books for summer reading, or are looking for a cheaper copy of a required book for class, but they are IN a bookstore which is a dangerous place to be. They might actually stumble across that copy of Thoreau's "Walden" or R.D. Laing's "Politics of Experience", which would corrupt them entirely with new ways of thinking.

    People ask me all the time if books will ever become obsolete. I don't think so. There is something unique and personal about a book that it's digitization can never duplicate. Our culture still values whats original and unique. And books are some of the most unique creations of civilization. They are little mind bombs set to go off in your head when you least expect it. Even our free books set out in boxes in front of the store, regularly disappear. No, books are more popular than ever. And as long as we value the imagination, books will always be the best way we have to communicate and express our thoughts and creations.

    Of course, there are those who think the exact opposite: books are an obsolete form of communication. One of the more interesting blog posts that counters my argument that books are here to stay is one by Jeff Jarvis. His "BuzzMachine" blog is highly intelligent and worth a read. Perhaps Jeff should write a book? Oh...I forgot, books are becoming obsolete. Ah, well....
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