Magazine article Library Administrator's Digest

More Books Than Ever?

Magazine article Library Administrator's Digest

More Books Than Ever?

Article excerpt

The Denver Public Library, in its publication Viewpoint, devotes the whole issue to "America's Reading Renaissance: Alive and Well at the Denver Public Library." The article starts with the sentence "In an increasingly electronic age, Americans are buying and borrowing more books than ever."

DPL goes on to say, after discussing technology, "But even the long shadow of technology can't eclipse the book's unique power, in the words of the Denver Public Library's mission statement, to inform, educate, inspire and entertain.' U.S. book sales increase 6-8 percent every year, transforming what was an $8 billion industry in 1968 into a $22 billion industry today."

Whenever I see figures like this, and I do all the time, I wonder if whoever uses comparative figures over a period of years to indicate growth (or decline) uses constant dollars. So it was in this situation, where the article was, I presume, trying to prove that the book was dramatically alive and well, as indicated by book sales. Well, it seems that maybe everything is not as hunky-dory as DPL might wish: if constant dollars, as measured by the cumulative price index, are used, $8 billion in 1968 converts in 1997 dollars to $36.9 billion. So if sales were $22 billion in 1997, which, according to the Association of American Publishers, they were, unit sales of books were actually down. Unless, of course, book publishers kept their prices dramatically below the CPI, which most of us would sincerely doubt. There's a problem in finding unit sales in available reference sources, so I don't have those. Maybe the crack reference librarians in Denver can. I'll be gratified if they find that unit sales have greatly increased since 1968.

Of course, total book sales include the school, religious, professional, higher education segment of the market, as well as the trade portion, which is the part of the market that accounts for most library purchases. …

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