imageimage The On the Media public radio show looks this week at the “past, present and future of books”—a full update of an earlier show from a year ago. Among the points made: “too many books, not enough profits.” Half a million books, by one estimate, are appearing on the U.S. annually.

image Fueled by new technology such as the Espresso Book Machine, the self-publishing revolution will help multiply the current number of books. Same for initiatives such as Google’s digitization drive. So if you’re an overwhelmed reader-shopper, don’t expect relief—just the opposite. The good news is that e-books might be picking up some of the sales that the P side isn’t making. What’s more, one study found that young people might actually be reading more by some measurements. Hmm. I wonder if e-books could explain some of that.

image image Among other topics, OTM and a related podcast look at indie bookstores, social reading as commented on by Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, paper books vs. e-books and urban fiction.

Heard worldwide via podcast reachable through the main link, this is my favorite media show because of all the fresh information I run across there. Cohosts are Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield.

Related: Budding authors publish their own works online and in print, a BBC report mentioning the Espresso gizmo, as well as Beyond Borders: The future of bookselling, a Guardian and Observer item (both spotted via Gary Price). Also see Wikipedia on the number of books published each yea rin different countries. In addition, check out Ficbot and Shortcover’s observation on free books and DearAuthor’s take.

Housekeeping: The Adobe-related DRM commentary will come later in the week.

Technorati Tags:


  1. There is no such thing as too many books.
    Too few readers maybe but not too many books.

    The amount of books a society produces are directly proportional to its population size (duh, right?) and its creativity and productivity. There are quite a few societies on the planet that are producing essentially zero books. These same societies also have high birthrates. Those societies I’d worry about.
    But the US? Nope!

    The US just needs to increase readership a bit and the big publishers need to get off their rears and start *earning* their cashflow instead of relying on retailers to do all the heavy lifting.

  2. I disagree, Felix. One of the things publisher need to do to earn their money is to be a bit more discriminating in what they publish. Publishing too many unprofitable books is part of the problem.

    The publishers would likely answer me by saying that predicting which books will take off is hard. I’m afraid, though, that “My business is difficult to do well,” is an answer which most industries will laugh at.

    Mind you, some of thoes unprofitable books will probably be ones that you and I would like to see, but putting out too many titles and having too many of them fail is a bad way to try and make a profit.

    Jack Tingle

  3. Ah, but in the era of the ebook and the infinite tail the whole business model changes. In a properly run business, the size of the catalog (especially the back catalog) becomes a pure profit center even if it takes micropayments to get there.
    Yes, in a 19th century B&M treeware business there might be such a thing as an unprofitable book. In a digital world though? Only if you don’t know how to size advances and promote your catalog.
    Sorry, but the ball is in the publisher’s court; incremental inventory costs are minimal; large catalogs will be better than small catalogs. (Anybody even notice that the folks at Baen are scarfing up loads of “name” SF writers from the 50’s and 60’s? Hamilton, Heinlein, Chandler, Laumer, etc. Smart. Very smart. But then, we knew they were.)
    For profits, the name of the game hereafter is managing content acquisition and content promotion.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail