Saturday, February 02, 2008

because being beaten by Alice Sebold's novel is less painful than reading it

Too many titles, and too few sales to go around. Canada seems to read more than our American cousins, though other surveys suggest otherwise, but a study summarized in the Globe today suggests that the number of titles have increased from 12000 Canadian titles in 1998 to 17000 today. Thus, "a growing number of books are contending for the attention of roughly the same number of book buyers, a situation amplified,” the report notes, by the growth in stores selling used and remaindered books (out-of-print or overstocked titles sold at steep discounts), the growth in online sales, and “an increasingly saturated media environment.” One result is that “both the average sales per title in Canada and the average print runs in many title categories have been falling in recent years.”
On the retail side, the important quote from the story is that due to discounts from box stores or Amazon,
purchases are more informed by price and less by the unique aspects of the individual book, including its literary or artistic merit.”
And so the rise dominance of a slew of similar titles priced to move at the expense of a whole lot of diverse, smaller and most certainly better books that die fast and quiet. 'Twas ever thus, but now the trend accelerates to the point where,
"Publisher friends tell me they sell about the same number of books they used to sell in the old days, except back then, if they sold, say, a million copies of ten titles, the big best-seller topped the list with 500,000 copies, the runner-up sold 200,000, and the other eight titles shared the remaining 300,000. These days Harry Potter sells 990,000 copies and the others share the 10,000 that’s left, says George Jonas from the National Post.
Adjust for hyperbole, and he's close to right. I've only read a handful of the books on the current best seller lists, and as usual for good reason.
(is anyone reading that Tom Cruise biography? It's gathering dust, creepy weird dust at our place.) I've got no quarrel with anything on there as such, but there's little point reading much on it because my opinion of the Kite Runner really doesn't add much. If I can put a few more copies of this out there though, well it still doesn't add much, but it does broaden the national menu a bit, and that's the impact of what Jonas and much of the report is on about.
I also wonder if chain stores are playing such an "important role in presenting a wide selection of Canadian titles to consumers” then why are sales flat?
That's a question that Ursula K Leguin answers pretty well in the February issue of Harpers. It's behind a subscription wall, but it's a provocative essay that takes a pragmatic look at the alleged decline in reading as well as putting blame for the numbers discussed in the Globe story where it belongs.

Posted by Dave

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