Are there too many books in the world?
If you look at the numbers, it might seem that way. A bit of Googling, and I came up with a figure of over a million new books being published every year in the US. Add to this the 13 million books from previous years that are still available, and that’s an awful lot of reading material. And that’s only in the US. Google reckons there are nearly 130 million books in the whole world, and that it would take about 60,000 years to read them all.
That’s going on a book a day, too. The average American reads roughly 4 books a year. In the UK, the average person reads for only 5 hours per week.
Yet more and more books are being produced each year. I found one statistic that said a new book is published on Amazon every five minutes (and that was back in 2014). Even if this is a very conservative estimate, that’s over 250 new books every single day.
Looking at this with cold logic, when it’s impossible for a single person to even read a fraction of what already exists, there seems no reason for putting more stories out into the world. Yet many of us continue writing, and continue adding to this immense pile of fiction available to readers.
But the numbers don’t tell us everything.
Every reader is different, with different reading habits and tastes. Similarly, every writer has a different style, their own take on things, their own unique way of telling a story. Readers can go through many books before finding an author who resonates with them.
This is why there is usually a wide range of reviews, even on popular, commercially successful books. What one reader can’t stand, another will love.
As readers, we want to find books resonate with us. That might be in their style of writing, or the stories themselves, or something else—the rounded characters, or the witty dialogue, or the evocative settings.
Of course, it’s hard to find these ideal books—but we keep on reading, keep on searching. The more books available to us, the better our chances of finding that book, of discovering that writer whose voice speaks to us. And, as a writer, I keep putting these books out with the confidence that, somewhere, there is a reader who has been waiting for this particular book, even if they don’t know it themselves.
Once a reader finds that one book, of course, they often seek out others by the same writer. I know this through experience—it’s why I have every Douglas Adams book, why I’ve still got just about every Terry Pratchett book in paperback, every Iain Banks book. It’s why I get pre-orders of every book Barry Hutchison puts out, be they in the Space Team series or something else. It’s why I’ll look out for new books by the Platt/Truant/Wright team. And, as a writer, I know that, if someone clicks with one of my books, they’re likely to want more—and so I’ll do what I can to provide for them.
There’s obviously a certain amount of financial incentive in this—the more readers who like my books, the more copies I sell, and the more money I make. But there are other reasons why I write and publish books.
There’s something incredibly satisfying with whole creation process—and in a society where we are encouraged so often to be passive consumers (of all kinds of media) it’s important that everyone has some kind of creative outlet. In the past this was music for me—hours spent playing guitar, recording and manipulating sounds, editing as best I could—but for you it’s probably something different. Maybe it’s gardening, or cooking, or painting, or sewing. For me, at this moment in time, it’s writing.
Of course, creating anything is never plain sailing. There’s planning, and moments when things don’t seem to be working. There are different stages of revision, correcting one issue but having that lead to more things that need altering. But this is all part of the challenge—if it was easy, why bother?
I could write stories purely for my own entertainment, but there’s a persuasive argument that anything we create doesn’t really exist until we let it out into the world. This can be both scary and liberating—what if readers hate it? What if they love it? What if it’s ignored? But until I publish, the story isn’t complete.
This drive to produce (and publish) more stories makes the original question—are there too many books?—almost redundant. Yes, there are more books in the world than any one person can read. But there is also more music out there than a single person could listen to in a lifetime, more TV and film, more paintings and sculptures, more great meals and beautifully tended gardens, more of everything than we can ever experience. Art and creativity are all around us, and it’s being added to all the time. And this is a good thing—the more there is, the more we can experience.
The more books that exist, the more books there are for each of us, with our individual tastes, to read and enjoy.