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'The greatest explosion of communications'

28 March 2005

A major new study of book publishing across Europe shows an encouraging trend, if, that is, you think that the rapidly increasing number of books being published is a good sign.

In 2002 Britain led the way with 120,000 new books published. Germany, where publishing has not been in good shape recently, still managed 80,000 new books in 2002. France, Italy and Spain all achieved 60,000 to 70,000 new titles each. In France the number of books published has doubled in a decade, which must show some evidence of increasing demand.

Since the number of new books published in the United States stands at a record 150,000 a year, the fact that both Britain and the US are publishing in English for a global market may have something to do with their high figures.

Robert McCrum, writing in the Observer, certainly thinks so: ‘One of the reasons why British imprints are publishing at such a phenomenal rate is because they are swept up in the greatest explosion of communications since the invention of printing. What's more, this explosion is being conducted in global English… Book publishing is a hit and miss business, but it has always reliably been a mirror to society. If it is now producing more books than ever, this is because there is an appetite and, globally, a market.’

This is part of what is happening. But the explosion in the number of books published in the States is also influenced by the rapid growth in self-publishing, now booming as authors give up on getting their books taken on by publishers and decide to publish them themselves. And that, together with the increase in the number of writers, may be why it still seems so difficult to get your own book taken on by a publisher.