Books Are Doing Surprisingly Well

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What hasn't been said about the decline of book publishing and ensuing death of reading? We've heard the lugubrious tale over and over again, listened to the tearful elegies patiently, attended the funeral and sent off our beloved time and time again.

And then, says an article in McSweeney's, we went home and read a new book, many of them even and maybe more than we ever have before. "Book sales are up, way up, from twenty years ago. Young adult readership is far wider and deeper than ever before. Library membership and circulation is at all-time high," says the report. Here's a breakdown of how and why the book world might actually be alive and well.

Book Sales Near All-Time Highs: "According to Nielsen's BookScan—a sales-monitoring service widely regarded as representing 70 to 75 percent of trade sales—Americans bought 751,729,000 books in 2010. Excepting 2008 and 2009,"--read worldwide recession--"when sales reaches 757 million and 777 million, respectively, that's many millions more books sold than in any other year BookScan has recorded. (Five years earlier, in 2005, the total was just 650 million.)"

There Are More Original Book Titles: "In 2008, there were more original book titles published in print than ever before: 289,729 different titles in the U.S. alone." And More Publishers Themselves: "In 2007, there were more U.S. publishers than ever before: 74,240 (that's compared with 397 in 1925). This figure has been rising every year since the data has been collected." And More Authors: "In 2005, there were more published authors in the U.S. than ever before: 185,275 (compared, for example, with eighty-two in 1850)."

Revenue Is Around Record Heights: "In 2008, the last year complete numbers are available, overall revenue from book sales in the U.S. was at $24.255 billion, down just a tick from $24.959 billion in 2007, the all-time high." Literacy, As Well: "Adult literacy in the U.S. is also at an all-time high: 242,895,000 adults (98 percent of the adult population) were considered literate in 2010."

Don't Forget About Libraries
: "Library membership in the U.S. is at an all-time high: 208,904,000 Americans held library cards in 2009. (That's 68 percent of the population, the greatest number since the American Library Association began keeping track in 1990.)"

What's the E-Book's Influence in Actual Book Production? "Sales of e-books still represent a small percentage of the overall book market. Depending on who's counting, the portion of the market is between 8% and 10%. When Amazon reports that their e-book sales are now larger than their paperback sales, it's easy to extrapolate this to encompass overall reading trends. But that would be a mistake. Amazon is an internet company, and it follows that their sales would favor electronic delivery of text."

The article is part of a series in McSweeney's on reading. Read about the health of libraries here. Global literacy here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.