Publishers love moaning. The piles in Waterstones are too big, the number of titles stocked too small; advances are too high, supermarket prices too low; TV steals readers, except when it doesn't (thank Richard and Judy). Nobody buys books. In fact, they do: the annual turnover of the British publishing industry is now £2.8 billion - a little more than fish or cheese and a little less than bread. That's right, bread. The UK bread market is worth £2.9 billion. Nine million loaves are bought each day and the bakers never complain. For every ten loaves that are sold, so is one book: that's 900,000 books a day flying off the shelves. As for the dread effect of Hollywood: in the UK people spend three times more money on books than they do on the cinema. It's Disney we should be worried for. To those who argue that all this is as may be but the vast majority of these books are about small wizards staying up past their bedtime or the love affairs of ex-glamour models, one can only say: that's true. Still, 115,000 different titles are published in Britain each year and - if you leave aside an as yet statistically insignificant dip in 2004-5 - the number has grown continuously and acceleratingly since 1947. Ten times as many titles are published now as were published then and - insanely - nearly as many as in North America, a market more than three times the size. Conglomerates are supposedly driving out small businesses but nonetheless there are 2275 book publishers in Britain. Things aren't too bad.
LRB 7 February 2008 | PDF Download