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For an "Industry in Crisis" There Sure Are a Lot of Books

From today’s Publishers Weekly summary of Bowker’s latest report on publishing:

Despite the belief in many quarters that the growth of e-books will mean the death of the printed book, the number of books produced by traditional publishers rose 5% in 2010, to a projected 316,480, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday morning from R. R. Bowker. That number, however, is dwarfed by the growth in output of nontraditional titles, which jumped 169% to 2,766,260. As Bowker notes, the majority of nontraditional titles consists largely or print-on-demand editions of public domain titles. Self-published titles are also included in the figure. Based on the preliminary figures, the combination of traditional and nontraditional books totaled a projected 3,092,740 in 2010, up 132% from 2010.

The e-book vs. print book thing is probably misleading (as most experts point out, it seems likely we’ll live in a world of multiple formats), but the fact that there are almost 10 times more “nontraditional titles” being published than traditional ones is pretty striking. And the fact that over 3 million books were published last year is incredibly stunning. Especially since that’s up 132% over 2010 while sales for Jan/Feb 2011 for print books were down 24% compared to last year.

The sheer number of books brings to mind Gabriel Zaid’s So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance, and reinforces my fears about how people ever discover anything amid this tidal wave of titles . . . When the average American only reads like 3 or 4 books a year, something seems a bit out of whack.

This overwhelming number of books also reminds me of this:

From the New Yorker:

The Argentinean artist Marta Minujín makes not sculpture but “livable sculpture” or, better yet, “happenings.” In her 1963 work “The Destruction,” she filled the Impasse Ronsin in Paris with her artistic creations from the previous three years (primarily splatter-painted mattresses, twisted up, hung on picture frames, sewn together with pillows) and then invited fellow artists to “intervene” with them, after which she set the lot on fire, while releasing among the spectators a hundred birds and a hundred rabbits. Minujín is perhaps best known for her work with mattresses (you can view some of her delightful deconstructions on her Web site), but she also has a thing for books. In 1983, she created a full-scale model of the Parthenon in a park in Buenos Aires made (but for some metal scaffolding) entirely of books that had been banned during the last military dictatorship (there’s an incredible picture of it here). After three weeks, the public was allowed to pick the Parthenon apart and to take the books home with them.

This week, she’s back with “The Tower of Babel,” an ode to linguistic oneness erected in the Plaza San Martin to celebrate Buenos Aires being named the World Book Capital of 2011. The structure contains some thirty thousand books in various languages, many of them donated by embassies of countries around the world (the U.S. sent one thousand books; Ecuador sent thirty-five hundred). “I don’t know why we have to have different languages,” Minujín told the A.F.P. “Art needs no translation.” Noble sentiments, to be sure, but I prefer her more irreverent reason for building the tower: “It’s really amusing to be able to climb up and down a work of art.”



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