Figure 1. Number of new fiction titles published annually in the United States between 1940 and 2010. Sources: Greco et al. (1940-1991); R. R. Bowker (1993-2010). Title output for 1991 and earlier adjusted (upward, by a factor of three) to account for Bowker’s subsequent changes in methodology.
Here's an excerpt from what Matthew Wilkens posted on Post45 in a post titled “Contemporary Fiction by the Numbers”:
“There are a lot of books published in the U.S. every year. Hundreds of thousands; millions, if you count print-on-demand and other “non-traditional” titles. Restricting our interest to fiction, the number is still around 50,000 and growing rapidly (see figure 1). And that’s just in the United States.
Fifty thousand new novels in the U.S. every year. We read a couple dozen, see reviews of maybe that many again, and so could claim to know something about roughly 0.1% of the total. Even that might be (barely) useful if it were randomly distributed, but of course it’s not; it’s by and large the thousandth that the major publishing houses have decided to support with ad buys, review placement, book tours, and publicity packages. We have no reason to believe that it’s a representative slice of the industry’s output.”
Most serious among these is the mounting disparity between the number of books we read (or, more inclusively, the objects we study) and the number produced. This gap is now large enough (and has been for decades) that it’s exceedingly difficult to say with any certainty what contemporary cultural production as a whole looks like.
[T]he fact that we have read, seen, and heard so little of that production is a serious problem.
As a reader and researcher, one has to agree with Wilkens and be deeply concerned with the number of books that you’re not privy to benefiting from their contents. However, I’ve always been content with the number of books that I’ve sold, but now I’m elated to know that I’ve sold any books with the amount of competition that’s produced every year. And that’s with little to know marketing support from a publisher.
Lastly, I would disagree with The Paris Review’s solution to this problem, which is to give up reading. Dan Piepenbring inconceivably posted:
When you’re considering which book to read next, remember this: you don’t have to read anything. You might, in fact, find it considerably more pleasurable to read nothing.
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