Billions of books

Publishers’ Weekly reports that after recording a 4.1% decline in overall book publishing sales in 2004, total book sales in the US rose 9.9% to a total of $25.1 billion in 2005.
In 2004 total US book sales were $22.8 billion.
Yes, I said billion.
That’s a lot of books. It’s actually quite a few books per reader (see? I’m not the only culprit), especially when you consider that the country’s population (295 million) has a startlingly high rate of adult illiteracy. says there’s a 38% illiteracy rate for adults in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics (1992) indicates a 21% illiteracy rate among adults, with at least 8 million people “unable to perform even the simplest literacy tasks.” According to reports in the Los Angeles Daily News, 53% of workers aged 16 or older in the Los Angeles region are functionally illiterate – meaning they can’t read simple forms or compose basic correspondence. A more conservative estimate claims there are at least more than 10 million adults who are illiterate. President Bush’s home state of Texas is the most illiterate.
We’ll assume a proportion of those people have trouble reading English, but might be able to read in other languages, but still…
Who’s reading all those millions of books?

“The largest increase in the trade book sales came in the children’s hardcover category, which the AAP reports rising to a $3.61 billion, a whopping 59.6% increase over the $2.26 billion in juvenile hardcover sales in 2004—an increase that owes much to the sale of 13.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. And this after juvenile hardcover sales were down by 16.7% in 2004. Other hardcover titles that helped contribute to the increase: 1.75 million copies sold of Christopher Paolini’s Eldest; and 1.8 million copies of the 12th installment in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.
Children’s paperbacks were up 10% to 8 million.”

I’m hoping that’s a sign of hope for the future.

3 thoughts on “Billions of books

  1. I realize you live off in a far corner of the world, and I further realize that you get most of your information about the USA from the legacy US media, either directly or at second or third hand. Still, have you ever thought to check some of the information you are spieling off?”the country’s population (90 million)” No, 290 million.”…a 38% illiteracy rate…” and “… a 21% illiteracy rate…” and “…53% of workers aged 16 or older in the Los Angeles region are functionally illiterate…” Many of these sources have some axe to grind; you must apply a bit of common sense to such statistics. Further, realize that the US contains ten million plus illegal aliens, many from backward parts of the world such a S. America, Africa and Canada.”President Bush’s home state of Texas is the most illiterate.” Almost certainly false based on test scores but ties in with the views of those who feel a man (Dubya) with a masters from Harvard is ‘stupid.'”Who’s reading all those millions of books?” Precisely.”‘The largest increase in the trade book sales…Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince…Series of Unfortunate Events…'” “I’m hoping that’s a sign of hope for the future.” The reading of near-trash gives you hope?! I’m pushing my ten-year-old to The Jungle Book, Tom Sawyer, Alice, Treasure Island, etc. The series books of today are pretty thin intellectual gruel by comparison.By the way, I read submissions for a small mag, and will soon (I hope) be able to scan your opus with my censorious eye.

  2. Apologies for the typo on the US population statistic (now corrected).As you can see from the post, I looked up several sources on US illiteracy rates, and am quite clear that some of this relates to people for whom English is not a sceond language – although I manage not to blame them for this “backward” behaviour. From this far-flung corner of the world, I wasn’t aware that education and literacy foundations had such serious axes to grind – like getting funding for libraries and schools, perhaps?Kids love that “near-trash” you mention: they are easily read, and lead them on to other reading adventures. I salute their authors.My thoughts on Kipling and Stevenson are elsewhere on the blog.

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