Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them. Fifteen years ago, Philip Roth guessed there were at most 120,000 serious American readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade. Others vehemently disagree. But who really knows? Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing. What readers want—and whether it’s better to cater to their desires or try harder to shape them—remains a hotly contested issue.

--Boris Kachka, "The End"


  1. Anonymous10:55 PM

    It's a tragic story, but confirms what I've heard from author buddies. I think maybe small author collectives like Kelly Link and Gavin Grant's Small Beer Press is one model that might be sustainable, but no one's going to get 6- or 7-figure advances that way. Another approach is the author-direct model (aka self-publishing). I'd pay $20 any day of the week to buy a new book from HK or Clyde or Doris Betts via, because I know all of the dollars (minus paying an editor) would go to them, rather than to the publisher or to B&N.

  2. Yup. And speaking of Doris Betts, I wish she'd finish the book she was working on several years back, Who is Sylvia?, and get it out there in some capacity.

  3. Anonymous12:21 PM

    The place to start would be though book bloggers.

    I once conducted an informal survey at the bookstore and asked browsers how often they read. Half of them said they read everyday.

  4. Anonymous3:32 PM

    It's probably possible to work backwards into numbers of 'serious' readers, or readers of 'literary fiction' (two different but probably substantially overlapping sets), through methods like Matt suggests. The Pew Internet & American Life studies looked at relationships between reading and internet use, so perhaps you could construct a model of 'serious' readers who are lit bloggers; you could look at what proportion of circulation across public libraries is literary fiction vs genre fiction and use average numbers of checkouts per patron per year to get stats on what that curve looks like. Some of the other recent studies of book-buying and reading behavior have numbers that could be used as estimators.

    I think the more important question is how to create new generations of readers who are interested in books rather than TV, and who go to the library to read books rather than use the Internet or play DDR. Those of us who work as LIS educators sometimes have skewed images of the world because we often live in communities where libraries and bookstores have big budgets, deep collections, rich interactions with the community, and abnormally heavy use relative to other parts of the country.

  5. Visit People Reading and you'll know there are many, many readers out there! Of course, these are just people seen book-in-hand in San Francisco, if somebody did this in every major city, no one would doubt that books are still loved.


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