Bookish Britain overtakes America as top publisher

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

LONDON (Reuters) – Readers on both sides of the Atlantic
Ocean made bestsellers last year of “The Da Vinci Code” and the
latest Harry Potter adventure, but British publishers for only
the second time in 20 years churned out more new book choices
than their American counterparts.

U.S. output dropped for the first time since 1999 while the
number of British titles surged 28 percent, according to new
data from research firm Bowker.

Britain, with one-fifth the population of the United
States, has long been the world’s largest publisher of new
books per capita in any language, but a steep decline in U.S.
publication of general adult fiction and children’s books
helped boost the UK’s total volume to the top English-language

UK publishers issued 206,000 new books in 2005 compared
with 172,000 in the United States, which saw an 18 percent drop
in production, according to the New Providence, New
Jersey-based firm’s preliminary figures.

The volume of new books has been steadily increasing since
the mid-1980s as the popularity of superstores required more
titles to fill their shelves, and then later the advent of
online retailers made greater choice even easier to supply.

The number of annual new titles from U.S. publishers has
increased 51 percent since 1995, but the growth may have hit a

“Common sense will tell you that when you produce 200,000
new products — more than any other industry — the market
can’t digest all of them,” Andrew Grabois, a Bowker consultant
who compiled the data, said on Wednesday.

“It’s not because it’s physically too many, but how do
people become aware of all of them?”

Bowker expects that American publishers will remain
cautious this year, as well.

“The price of paper has already gone up twice this year,
and publishers, especially the small ones, will have to think
very carefully about what to publish,” Bowker’s chief operating
officer Gary Aiello said.

The United States previously had published more books than
Britain every year for the past 20 years, except in 2001,
Grabois said.

“The question is, will British publishers face a similar
market correction, or have they figured out how fewer
publishers can publish more books for even fewer readers?” he

The U.S. output last year was the country’s second highest
total, after the record set in 2004. It was the 10th downturn
in the last 50 years, Bowker said.

Bowker’s Books in Print data base represents figures from
83,000 U.S. publishers. Grabois said he obtained the UK data
from Nielsen BookScan.

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