Two very interesting, and contrasting, maps just put online suggest some fascinating conclusions about current UK publishing, book selling, and reading habits. The first, apparently a one-man production from Jakub Marian, a Czech mathematician, linguist, and musician currently living in Germany, illustrates the “number of books published per year per capita by country in Europe.” As Marian says, “I wasn’t able to find a good source of information, so I decided to make one myself.”

Based on this map, you’d expect the Brits to be the most literate, cultivated nation in Europe. After all, their publishing turnout dwarfs the supposedly intellectual Frenchies, at 2870 books published per million people, versus a puny 1010 for the French. Only Denmark – my publisher’s domicile, I’m happy to say – comes close to rivalling this achievement, at 2880 titles per million citizens.

However, another map, showing which nation has the most active readers, tells a different story. Produced by Amazing Maps from research in the NOP World Culture Score, the map shows the number of hours each week that each nation spends reading. There, British readers are apparently putting away only an average of 5.3 hours a week over their books, versus 10.7 hours in top-ranked India, or 8 hours in China, 7.4 in the Czech Republic, and 6.9 hours in Sweden or France. Instead, the breakdown reveals, they’re listening to the radio (10.5 hours) or watching TV (18 hours).

So why the huge publication figures? Well, I suspect this is actually English-language titles published in the UK but destined for the global English-language market. After all, someone must be reading them somewhere, right? The alternative possibility – almost too horrible to contemplate – is that English publishing houses are churning out title after title that no one ever reads. But then who would ever dare to suggest that UK publishers are so wildly out of touch with their reader base and so insulated from public taste? After all, the proliferation of book remainder stores in the UK would surely argue against that, no?



  1. You’re right. Wherever you live as a writer, including someone being translated into English, the UK is perhaps the best single destination. And keep in mind that the UK produces a lot of textbooks for less developed countries.

    More broadly:

    * To reach English speakers around the world, go with a UK publisher. Partly that’s closeness to the rest of Europe. Partly is lingers on from the Empire.

    * To reach the U.S., find an American publisher. They have the marketing and distribution here.

    * To reach Canadians, look for a Canadian publisher. Same reason.

    I’m not sure why the figures are so high for Denmark. Perhaps it handles a lot of the publishing for all of Scandinavia much like NYC handles it in the U.S. Copenhagen would be a great place to live.

    A more interesting set of statistics would be some measure of full-time writers per million people or even better the number of books sold per writer.

    I almost wrote the previous sentence with “the number of writers per book sold,” but things aren’t that bad.

  2. I suspect that the high number of books published in the UK includes titles originally published in the US, Canada, and other English speaking countries and territories.

    This is a type of “double counting”. In other EU countries some English books might be translated and republished in the local language, but this would be matched by non-English books translated to English and published in the UK.

    What you need is [number of books by local authors published per year] / [population].

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