Saturday, August 05, 2006

Question #2: Are We Publishing More Titles?

Ain't coincidence a wonderful thing?

When I wrote my post yesterday, I had never heard the name "Dana Gioia" before.

In looking up the NEA, I noted in passing that its chairman was Dana Gioia. I noticed it mostly because I pay attention to Italian surnames (my father was Italian). Didn't give it another thought after that.

This afternoon while I was responding to my emails, I was listening to National Public Radio. Damned if they weren't interviewing Dana Gioia about his experience as chairman of the NEA.

It's a small, strange world.

Back to the questions I posed yesterday. We've dealt with the first question: Are people reading less? The answer was a resounding, "Yes!" Now I'd like to look at the second question: Are we (the U.S.) publishing more titles? Apologies to any foreign readers, but I'm trying to limit my universe to keep this post at a reasonable length.

To answer the second question, I visited

If you're a writer, you should already be familiar with R.R. Bowker. The company is the official U.S. ISBN agency, meaning they assign the International Standard Book Numbers (pronounced the is-ben). The ISBN is the unique identifier assigned to each book title.

Pick up a book--any book published in the last forty years--and you'll probably see a 10- or 13-digit ISBN number somewhere on it (starting in January, all ISBNs will be 13 digits). While there is no requirement that the book display this number, most bookstores will not accept a book without an ISBN number. The number makes it easier to track the book. Publishers purchase blocks of these numbers and assign them to books being released.

Bowker's site says, "As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker receives the most authoritative title and publisher information available." That's why I went there to answer the second question. Bowker publishes Books in Print, providing information to the publishing industry on the U.S. book market. Each May, Bowker also issues a press release, giving statistics on U.S. book publishing for the previous year, compiled from its database.

Since we started in 2004 with the NEA study, I'm going to begin in 2004 here with Bowker's stats for the year ending 2003. Quotes come directly from their press releases:

YEAR ENDING 2003 (May 27,2004)
"Based on preliminary figures, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2003 increased a staggering 19% to 175,000 new titles and editions, the highest total ever recorded."

"General adult fiction was one of only three categories to show a decline in 2003, dipping 1.6% to 17,021 new titles and editions. This was the first year since 1991 that fiction did not register an increase. Output of new juvenile titles continued its upward trend, increasing a stunning 45.3% to 16,283, while the adult categories of biography, history and religion also recorded double-digit increases."

YEAR ENDING 2004 (May 24, 2005)
"Based on preliminary figures, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2004 increased by 14% to 195,000 (See update at the end of this post; the figure was revised to 295,523) new titles and editions, reaching another all-time high."

"The catalyst for growth in 2004 was adult fiction, which reversed a three-year plateau and increased a staggering 43.1% to 25,184 new titles and editions, the highest total ever recorded for that category. Adult fiction now accounts for 14% of all titles published in the U.S., the highest proportion since 1961. New poetry and drama titles increased 40.5% . . . New juvenile titles continued to rise in 2004, increasing 6.6% to 21,516, a new high for that category."

YEAR ENDING 2005 (May 9, 2006)
"Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2005 decreased by more than 18,000 to 172,000 (See the Update at the end of this post; the figure was revised to 282,500) new titles and editions. This is the first decline in U.S. title output since 1999, and only the 10th downturn recorded in the last 50 years. It follows the record increase of more than 19,000 new books in 2004."

"Great Britain, long the world's per capita leader in the publication of new books in any language, now replaced the United States as the publisher of the most new books in English. 206,000 new books were published in the U.K. in 2005, representing an increase of some 45,000 (28%) over 2004."

"General adult fiction and children's books, two of the bellwether categories in U.S. book publishing, showed double-digit decreases in new titles and editions. Virtually every broad publishing category tracked by Bowker except legal showed significant decreases. Among adult non-fiction categories released by all U.S. publishers in 2005, religion, biography, history, and technology suffered the steepest declines."

So, we have an answer to our second question. After several years of increases in the numbers of titles being released, 2005 suffered a 10.6% loss to 172,000.

Up until now, our questions have been fairly straight-forward and easily answered. Tomorrow, we will tackle the third question: Are book sales down? That will be the most difficult question of all to answer for several reasons. First, we'll need to define our terms. Are we talking about the number of units of books sold? Or are we talking about the profit made by the publishers? Think about it. What do we want to know?

Until tomorrow . . .

Update (6/1/07)
"Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2006 increased by more than 3% to 291,920 new titles and editions, up from the 282,500 published in 2005.

"This rise reverses the title output drop experienced in 2005, which came after seven years of increases and a peak of 295,523 new titles issued in 2004 . . .

"{Editor’s Note: Due to a change in methodology this year to more accurately track and report on these figures, the statistics cited in this news release differ from the statistics cited in previous years. However, all 2005 data has been adjusted to reflect this new methodology and create accurate year-over-year comparisons. The new methodology employed represents a collaborative approach with multiple industry data aggregators to verify the numbers. This approach will become the benchmark for all of Bowker’s book publishing industry data reports effective immediately.}"

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