Reliable statistics are hard to come by, especially with the advent of self-publishing, but estimates, according to Forbes, on the number of books “just” published in the United States is anywhere betwen 600,000 and 1,000,000 every single year. Probably half, generally, are those self-published books. Even if going by the low estimate of 600,000 and assuming half are self-published, that the publishing industry is still publishing 300,000 books a year “just” in the U.S. is an astonishing number.
Moreover, Google now estimates that in the history of books, there’s been 130 million books published world wide (129,864,880 to be precise).
Finally, the life expectancy of a male living in the United States is 77.4 years. Let’s go with 77 years, then. I’m 24 now. Let’s assume I live to 77 and then die. That’s another 53 years of living (damn, I really need to get on with watching The Wire, seems short) or 19,345 days.
If, IF, I could read a book a day for 19,345 days in a row from today until I die, that’s 19,345 books I would have read.
Let’s just assume that publishing will remain in that 600,000 to 1,000,000,000 (again “just” in the U.S.) range for the next 53 years. That’s, low-ball, 31,800,000 books between now and my death. High-end, that’s 53 million books.
That’s 19,345 versus 53 million!
And I’m not even accounting for however many of that 130 million previously published books I have yet to devour.
Moral of the story: As a would-be published author, the sobering reality is that in the history of the human species, we’ve written a lot of books, but only a handful (in relative terms, not a literal handful) of people have ever written something truly transcendent and profound. That’s equal parts beautiful and depressing.
As a longtime reader, the greatest pain is knowing you’ll never be able to read all the books you own or will own or will want to own. And every year, more and more of them are coming out. Granted, a lot of them are drivel, so that cuts down those wild numbers some.
The coolest fact of all of this is that Google is ever-surely digitizing the whole of human book creation. That’s amazing. I bow to you, Google.
Someone check my math. I’m a book worm, not a calculator.