Image via WikipediaAlthough things seem to change very rapidly in the publishing arena, little has altered in the reader's world, except the sheer volume of choice.
Examining the statistics seems amazing to those who know little about the machinations of book publishing. Who on earth is going to read all those millions of books? If one were to count the readers in any single country, one would not find enough to consume the enormous numbers of books being created by the day.
One would have to eliminate those too young to read or purchase books. Or those with financial restrictions that do not allow them to buy a cheap children's book. One must eliminate the illiterate. And remove those who simply do not read or buy books. A proportion of the population borrows from the libraries that are still standing. Some have not touched a book since school. Many chuck books out with childhood, like so many highchairs, strollers, nappies and bottles.
Reading is not for everyone. Although literacy levels continue to rise, they have little to do with whether that literacy applies to book purchasing - people read other material. They do not have to read books - there is enough material around that needs deciphering. The amount of reading one has to do in an interactive game, for example, is tantamount to a small novel.
I stood in Big W yesterday - a department store that carries everything, from hammers and nails to chocolate and dinner sets and toasters, shoes and fishing rods. I waited by an enormous dump bin crammed with cheap paperbacks and looked at the book section, crammed mainly with celebrity cookbooks, sporting biographies and bestselling novels by household name authors. The store buzzed with shoppers, but the book department was almost deserted. Already shrunk to a quarter of its previous size, and occupying floor space equivalent to a large lounge room, it was the only quiet spot in the store.
Interesting. I watched browsers (all female), who gravitated without fail to the colourful children's section.
I realized that the sales predictions of the industry would apply mainly to online bookstores. Few were making their book purchases as I looked. In the entire shopping complex, two of the bookstores were no more, and the one left was pushed into a corner, and contained only three shoppers when I came up in the lift.
Different from other years? Marginally. I knew what was going on online - I have watched it all year, for a number of years now. Just because readers have shifted where they buy books does not mean they do it any differently. Even the fact that a large number of bought books remain unread stays the same.
The hardworking author might do well to examine what is happening. I leave the conclusion to them - whether they see the changes in quantity of available books - competition - as heartening or depressing depends on their ability to bring their books to the notice of readers, and the ability of their words to retain their attention.
Reading is alive and well - that is not the issue. It's the over supply that makes authors wonder where all this might go in the next five years or so.
What are YOUR predictions?