How Many Books Are Going to be Published in 2012? (Prepare for a Shock)

I hadn’t planned to write any more about the book world. For one, it’s too depressing, and for another, I’m getting to where I’m okay with it. I’ve never had much use for 99.99% of books published anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if the world is being overrun with terrible books. It always has been. And, truth be told, I don’t enjoy reading much any more. After having read more than 20,000 books, I’m way past the first flush of enthusiasm when it comes to new books. (Okay, I admit it, I’m jaded.) When people start writing before they have read thousands of books, they don’t know that the story they are telling has been written a zillion times before. Nor do their equally unread readers know or care. It’s new and fresh to them. So, perhaps I should leave the book world to those who still embrace it.

So why am I writing about the book world again? I came across a statistic tonight that totally staggered me (All information comes from Bowkers, the company in the U.S. who issues ISBN numbers).

300,000 books were published in the U.S. 2003.

411,422 books were published in the U.S. in 2007.

1,052,803 books were published in the U.S. 2009.

Approximately 3,000,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2011.

And . . . drum roll, please . . . in an online interview, Seth Godin suggests that 15,000, 000 books will be published in 2012.

15,000,000. Yikes.

Google estimates that as of August 2010, there were 129,864,880 books in existence. Which means that the total number of books that could be published in 2012 is more than 1/10 of all the books in existence. That is an unfathomable jump, a 500% increase in a single year. (That is correct, right? 3,000,000 times 500% = 15,000,000.) Unbelievable.

I got an email from a book marketer today, wanting me to write an article about what the publishing landscape will look like in 2016. I cannot imagine what it will look like. Even if the number of books published returns to the more typical 200% increase per year, by the year 2016, we will have doubled all the books that were in existence in 2011.

Who is going to read all those books? Who is going to buy them?

72 Responses to “How Many Books Are Going to be Published in 2012? (Prepare for a Shock)”

  1. Deborah Owen Says:

    Love this post. It’s the first encouraging figures I’ve seen.

  2. Noah Baird Says:

    Excellent post! Very interesting.

  3. Lisa Brackmann (@otherlisa) Says:

    Good god!

    And this is exactly why I think traditional publishing isn’t going to go away. SOMETHING has to filter through all those books, and I don’t think “crowd sourcing” on its own can handle that load.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Lisa, that’s what I was thinking — the center can’t hold. Things always move to extremes, which means that a small percentage of books, probably published by the traditional publishers, will dominate the book market, with most of the millions of other books balancing out the zero end.

  4. kford2007 Says:

    Where did you find these statistics? I’d love to read the article. Thanks for the info, Pat.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      There is no article besides this one. I heard an interview with Seth Godin, and that’s where the 1,500,000 came from. The rest of the numbers came from Bowkers.

      • kford2007 Says:

        Wow, such alarming numbers. In a way it’s good that many people who may not get picked up by a traditional publisher have an outlet, but how much of it is really good? I, personally, am going with a small indie publisher but the road hasn’t been easy. They are ruthless (but fair and spot on) in their editing, in what they want and are very, very particular in the authors they take on. They are growing and have a good name so far with the likes of Preditors and Editors. I’ve read a few really good self-published books, some by authors who didn’t want to deal with traditional publishing, but these Amazon best-sellers are few and far between. I’ve also read books published by the big 6 that weren’t spectacular, either. From these numbers, it’s encouraging to see the ‘publishing’ business is not dead; it’s too bad that much of the talent produced by self-published authors, is.

  5. The Other Watson Says:

    These statistics are a little scary. I agree with some of the other comments – I think this just highlights the necessity for traditional publishing, to help sift through everything. Because while there are a lot of great new books out there, there is a lot of rubbish, and the rubbish seems to be the part that’s growing phenomenally.
    Very interesting post!

  6. Ken Coffman Says:

    I think the currents in the crowd-cloud are perfect for sorting things out. Our problem is how to take advantage of circulating currents and draw coherence from the noise. There are fresh, new metrics like the number of likes on YouTube and the number of nodes in our social network. New voices will get traction somehow. All we can do is lay groundwork and be ready to take advantage of any situational opportunities that arise.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Ken, that at least gives me hope — laying the groundwork and being ready to take advantage of any opportunities that arise. Otherwise I would feel as if I were drowning in an ocean of words with no way to the surface.

  7. jrafferty11 Says:

    Stunning statistics, Pat. Thanks for doing the digging to figure this out. It’s much better to have real data to talk about than to just speculate without it. I’d say we’re still in very early days with respect to the readers having the right tools to find the gems from among self pub or micro pub books.

  8. Mary Anne Landers Says:

    Thank you for this information, Pat. Some interesting—and disturbing—food for thought.

    Just my opinion, but I doubt this trend can go on much longer. The stigma already attached to self-publishing will grow. Sooner or later self-published writers will realize there’s no point in publishing themselves if nobody reads their books. An irreducable few will keep doing this, but the boom will go bust.

    Some other system for getting books to readers will emerge. Surely upcoming technologies will play a crucial role. Just what will this new system be? I haven’t the faintest.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The technologies are already changing. There are now interactive e-books that are enhanced with video, author interviews and social-networking applications. And then? Maybe there will be some sort of technology that turns the book you’re reading into a movie. All I know is that we’re moving away from books as we know them.

  9. P. C. Zick Says:

    We can only hope with these overwhelming stats that the cream will inevitably rise to the top. Publish the best and hope for same.

  10. Jeffrey Siger Says:

    Hi Pat,
    Hope you don’t mind but I thought your research so thought provoking that I posted much of it today (WITH FULL ATTRIBUTION TO YOU) on Murder Must Advertise.

  11. a good man Says:

    I think that this a sign of progress, we have to encourage publishing.

  12. Mike Pettit Says:

    DOUBLE DAMN!!! Just when I was thinking of myself as the new Cyber Hemingway I find my new career as an author will be over before it ever started. At my writing level, fifteen peers is a deal breaker…but 15,000,000….YIKES. I guess I’ll put my crayola’s away and start hanging out in the day room again.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Mike, I doubt you will have any problem. You already have a following, and with so many books published, your following can only increase.No need to put your crayons away.

  13. Suspense Your Disbelief » A Resource for Independent Authors Says:

    […] most of us read these numbers, right? 300,000 books published in 2003. 3,000,000 in 2011. A staggering leap. But in 2012 the […]

  14. Michael J. Sullivan (@author_sullivan) Says:

    Hey Pat…I find this interesting. Where did you get your data from. I’m always trying to figure out how many books are published each year and the data I’m working from comes from Bowker:

    Year Traditional Self-published Total
    2002 215,138 32,639 247,777
    2003 240,098 26,224 266,322
    2004 275,793 19,730 295,523
    2005 251,903 30,597 282,500
    2006 274,416 21,936 296,352
    2007 284,370 123,276 407,646
    2008 289,729 271,851 561,580
    2009 302,410 1,033,065 1,335,475
    2011 347,178 1,185,445 1,532,623

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I got the numbers from Bowker. Not all of their numbers add up, so I’m not sure what additional source of books they used. As you say, in 2011, the total seems to add up to 1,532,623, but at the top of their 2011 report, it says Traditional publishing grows a modest 5%, while POD sends print total over a record 3 million . If you add up the number of ISBNS for nontraditional books plus the number of traditional books, you end up with approximately three million for 2010. (I can’t find the report with the 2011 numbers again. Their site is almost impossible to navigate.)

  15. The Bumble Files Says:

    Wow! Whoa!! I’m astounded. I’m speechless.

  16. Kathy Bertone Says:

    Sad. Unfortunately, there is no longer a barrier to entry. Further, the sheer numbers of books “published” (perhaps we should change that to “printed”) don’t allow good writers to be heard. But the worst news is that consumers, those who want and love to read, are hurt by purchasing books that weren’t edited or, in some cases, even coherent. It will take several more years of this before the ship is righted, if it even can be. Thanks for depressing me further! 😉 Great post.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Kathy, this post depressed me as well. Whether 15,000,000 books will actually be published, we won’t know till next year, but the truth is still the same — the current “crowd sourcing” aspect of publishing does not allow good writers to be heard.

  17. Rishabh Says:

    Wow! That’s a stark universe you’ve painted. Almost alarmist. The way things stand today, its pretty much the youtube phenomenon in literature. With Amazon Kindle and wattpads of the world, many people are experimenting and learning it the hard way. My guess is, it’s just curiosity; like playing with a shiny new toy. Evidently, Amazon Kindle puts out unenvious number of best-sellers; contrast this with the number of ‘swindled by Kindle’ comments below the book pages, and you’ll get a sense of reader fatigue that is setting in. Just like in youtube, the million hits are with videos that more or less merit watching. Besides, youtube videos will never dethrone ‘A Dark Knight’. Bad analogy, but I guess the point’s clear.

    15,00,00,000 titles are not going to increase readership, this is for sure. The readers are just that many. And I do agree that these 15,00,00,000 little disco lights are blinding, and steal the thunder of the shiny disco ball. This will continue for a while, and then self publishing cow-boys will fall off the planet. Let’s all ‘Amen’ to that.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s also possible that self-publishing will become as ubiquitious as blogging and mean about the same. My guess the phenomenon will kill the interest of real writers (I already know several who have given it up) and it will also kill the interest of real readers (I used to read one or two books a day, now I don’t read at all).

      I like your guess better than mine. I hope you are right.

  18. briandrush Says:

    To restore the lock on distribution formerly held by traditional publishers is as impossible as it is undesirable. Personally, I find myself gravitating to books (always ebooks these days) that are recommended by a reviewer that I trust, and I expect a lot of others will do the same. AND I’m always looking for new reviewers and new book suggestions. So I suspect that this is how indie books will find their market in the future.

    There’s also going to be an increase in niche markets, as it’s become possible for an author to do well financially with lower sales than in the past, due to higher royalties and very low publishing costs.

    Say an author publishes three novels a year, charging $2.99 per book, and receives $2 per sale in royalties. With a mere 20,000 devoted readers, he can make $120,000 per year, and that’s not counting new readers discovering him and buying up his old titles (remember ebooks have an infinitely long tail, as do POD books for that matter).

    I suspect the 15 million figure is inflated, but even it it’s not there’s no call for despair.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It will be interesting to see what the real figure ends up being.

      I’m learning to find my own place in the book world and to trust in my own journey as a writer, so it doesn’t matter as much to me how many books are being published. Look at all the blogs out there, yet I still find people who will read an article or two. Maybe someday I’ll find my own niche in the book world, too.

  19. Alki Nea Says:

    This is not depressing news! On the contrary, I found it amazing that people who want to share a story have the possibility to do it today. It’s an incredible revolution. For readers, it means more content available. For my son, I found it difficult to find good books in my library: traditional publishers seem to always choose their subjects in a “safe” way, which means, if a book worked, then let’s do the same. I have high hopes in self-publishers.

  20. legionwriter Says:

    This same phenomenon has happened with music recordings, since we now have the technology for anybody to create reasonably professional sounding music with a home computer (or even a smart phone, for that matter). It can be a concern for musicians, just as these book stats are for writers, because while the amount and availability of material is skyrocketing, I think the amount of quality material remains what is always has been. Now there is just more “noise” for the good stuff to fight through.
    Great topic!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I like your description of the masses of books published (or music recorded) as “noise.” Although it doesn’t help in getting noticed (or in finding books to read), it does help put the situation in perspective.

  21. Lu Says:

    This is so encouraging! I have an agent that is working on getting my manuscript published, maybe this will be my year. Thank you for this post!

  22. Link Feast For Writers, vol. 23 | Reetta Raitanen's Blog Says:

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  23. Carole M. Di Tosti (@mercedeskat45) Says:

    You would think with these figures, everyone has written a book? Guess what. They haven’t…and on top of that they won’t. That makes those who have written…and of course, taste is a matter of opinion and group think (I personally don’t think that traditional media publishers have selected “great books” to publish…they’ve selected what’s expedient, what their perception of marketable is and a host of other factors) something of a marvel. That said, be discouraged or not, books like thoughts are here to stay in whatever form. The old adage that everything has been written before I’ve heard since I was a kid and that is soooo tired and cliched. No, it hasn’t been written before. I or you or others have not existed before. Sorry to disappoint you. I am unique and so are my phrases, thoughts, concepts and characters, etc. So, are others, unless of course, they are clones which sometimes the media/publishing is looking for because it is so restricted in its creativity/innovative spirit and pocketbook and politics, meaning it is controlled and the concepts that they want to be published and written about and promulgated in the culture are the ones massively and heavily supported. So the I’m happy for all the book runs. Happy that many are encouraged to write and read and happy that books are not dead as was predicted some years ago by some idiot that was listened to for a few minutes in a brief history of nanoseconds. Happy reading.

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    • Robert Acosta Says:

      Pat, thank you for sharing these numbers. By the way, I am curious. You wrote that you have read more than 20,000 books. Assuming you have read for the past 50 years, that translates to more than one book per day. Are you sure? If you have done that, then that is a world record!

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        Robert, yes, I’m sure, and no, it’s not a world record. Other people have read a lot more than I have.

        When I was a child, all I wanted to do when I grew up was read, so as an adult, I did temporary work and then later had my own part-time business to give myself the maximum time to read. For more than twenty years, I read two or three books a day, all genres except romance, and all manner of nonfiction. Before and after that, I read a book a day. I don’t read at all now, haven’t for the past few months. Most books seem derivative to me, and it’s not worth trying to sift through the millions of books on the market to find one or two that are fresh and original and well-written.

        • Robert Acosta Says:

          Pat, I take my hat off to you. You are amazing. I have been trying to read about one book a week as suggested by Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey. I have managed to do that just a couple of times. My average is about 3 books a month. I feel I read a lot. So, I cannot fathom reading more than one book a day!

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Well, you probably have a life. My life for all those years was reading, which does not lead to any sort of financial success or security. Still, I’m glad I did it. Not many people have the choice to lead a life of letters.

  25. cate Says:

    i spent a whole afternoon in the library today, and still couldn’t find a good book…but anyway its like that even in the music industry, so much junk and less concrete thing

  26. ezra abrams Says:

    why would anyone bother to pay attention to a blog which starts off with un interesting stuff about the author, and then gives data without a source ?
    takes all types, I guess

  27. Katharine Trauger Says:

    Thanks for this, Pat.
    My first time here, and I am impressed. 🙂

  28. Things To Remember Says:

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    • Rachel Says:

      There might have been over 15 million books published this year, but just how many are print? Then how many are represented by traditional publishing houses? Those are the ones that make it to the bookshelves of stores and in homes alike. Not to say that all books published by traditional houses are better than those that aren’t (their authors probably didn’t want the hassle) ,But it’s something to comment on. Personally, I’m aiming to get published, traditionally, within 2013. Not to say that I’m better than any one, and not even to say that I want to get rich. But just to live out a dream.

  29. campfirememories Says:

    Thank you for your writing. I have used your post as a source in my latest blog post, (“Thank you to thousands of readers”) with a link for others to find you. Yes, it is a tough book market. What can we do but plug along, hoping that old adage is true; cream rises to the top. Let’s hope readers search for the cream, since it is oftentimes buried, and not always on a best seller list. Best Regards.

  30. J. Conrad Guest Says:

    Discouraging to say the least. Give those of us who continue to write a big kudos for continuing or efforts, for whatever our reason: because we enjoy the creative process, find it therapeutic, or because we want to do nothing less than change the world.

  31. Mark Brady Says:

    Where did Godin get his 15,000,000 ISBN number? The interview is no longer available that I can find. Which makes me suspect that it was taken down precisely because that number was tossed out off the top of his head.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I thingk you’re right that the number was tossed off the top of his head. I did find an interview where he says that 15,000,000 books will be published in 2012:

      I’ve been checking Bowker, and can’t find any information about how many books actually were published in 2012. When you consider that neither Amazon nor Barnes and Noble requires an isbn number to sell a book on their sites, I have a hunch it will be almost impossible to come up with a number.

  32. Juliana Says:

    Pat, a compilation of these blogs and issues that you raised, the interaction of others to your “thoughts” is far more of a learning experience than reading a book. This is from someone who was a reading teacher, writing teacher, writer, and has learned most of what I know from books (I’m a visual learner, not at all auditory). However, somehow the interactive nature of this blog seems to be propelling you into the thoughts of others and the nature of thought itself. Certainly I benefit greatly from your ideas in writing. However, as I said, the interactive nature of this media lends itself to having many, many editors. As someone who has edited books, I can assure you that you always need more than one. With my academic writing, I’ve always had at least three other academicians read and edit my work before I finalized it…then I still worry that there’s something not exactly right about it. I think that’s the problem with academic writing. If you misquote one statistician, one theorist, one source, your DEAD!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I always get three people to edit my books, too, though for blogs, I’m the only editor.

      • Juliana Says:

        That must be really satisfying. I got satisfaction from my editing when I knew I had done a good job of cleaning things up. I think that’s the part I liked about it. It was a matter of stating things in a clear and concise manner. That’s the part of academic writing that I found so appealing. I’m no good at describing events or developing characters, but boy oh boy can I cut to the chase in writing. To me, that’s the task of a good academic writier. You take the manuscripts of people who don’t understand grammar or the use of vocabulary. You clean up their ideas to make it mean exactly what they wanted it to say and what is scientifically accurate.

        There was one woman who published science text books. Holy Cow, it’s a good thing she wasn’t an English teacher, because she couldn’t clearly state her information in scientific text. I guess my job was more that of a technical writer in the sense that I had to use the technical skills of an academic writer and of English grammar to get the information across so that students could understand what they read.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          The best writing advice I ever received I read in an old book called The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker: “Clarity is the first aim; economy the second; grace the third; dignity the fourth. Our writing should be a little strange, a little out of the ordinary, a little beautiful with words and phrases not met everyday, but seeming as right and natural as grass.”

          This works for both fiction and non-fiction.

  33. Kory Welch Says:


    Have you been able to confirm is the 15 million number actually happened in 2012 and do you know a projection for 2013? I’m wondering if that volume is continuing at a similar pace. Incredible quantity. Thank you for your post.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I haven’t been able to confirm the number. I periodically check with Bowker, but they haven’t yet released their 2012 figures. I’m not sure it’s possible any more to tell how many books are published. Since neither Amazon nor Barnes and Noble require an ISBN number, those books could be counted twice or not as all. As for the pace, I get the impression the pace is continuing. Amazon has become sort of a social networking site, sort of like a blog platform, where anyone who has written anything resembling a book can post it. (I purposely say post rather than published because I no longer know what “published” means, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.)

  34. Nicholas Lovell (@nicholaslovell) Says:

    I find this figure deeply encouraging, although I also think the price of books is trending towards zero. Without gatekeepers, more writers will be free to experiment, to learn and to explore.

    The difference is that in the old days, lots of that experimentation took place in isolation, sitting at a desk, with little feedback from readers, from audience or from the market.

    It is true that filtering needs to get better. It is also true that authors will need to become marketers and self-publicists. But to my mind, the end of the hegemony of the tight cabal of English Literature graduates who controlled the publishing world is a very good thing.

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  38. Michael Harrington Says:

    It’s a winner-take-all world these days and that applies to creative markets just as much as it does to Wall Street. The technology revolution has democratized markets (good), and also made success more arbitrary (not so good). For books I agree with briandrush’s post above that readers have to participate in the filtering by posting online reviews both good and bad to inform new buyers. Perhaps that means Fifty Shades of Sexotica wins out at times, but it should also help quality writing to find an audience. EVERY book you read should get a star(s) on Amazon or Goodreads or Shelfari (but they’re all the same now). The more reviews, the more we’re sure it’s not just your Mom.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You make excellent points, both about the current state of the world –I like the way you describe it as a winner-take-all world — and that success is more arbitrary. (And “Fifty Shades of Sexotica” cracked me up.) I’ve been railing against both realities, but when you lay it out so rationally, it makes it easier for me to accept the truth of my place in the publishing world, and hopeful that maybe my books will find a larger audience.

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