How Many New Novels are Published Each Year?

In my recent talks, I’ve been saying things like “there are tens or hundreds of thousands of new novels published every year, and I just can’t read all of them.” Matt Kirschenbaum says this demonstrates a deplorable lack of initiative in our younger scholars, and he’s probably right. But is my count reasonable? I pretty much made it up, so I thought I should check.

But how do you do that? Google could probably tell you how many volumes are in their metadata database, along with their years of publication, but how many of those are novels or other works of prose fiction? Wikipedia claims to know the totals for “books” broken down by country, though their numbers are oldish and taken from diverse sources.

If we can live with U.S.-only numbers, and if we’re mostly interested in English-language fiction, we can consult R.R. Bowker’s publishing statistics (they’re the people who run Books in Print). From them we learn that there were 407,000 books published in 2007 (the last year for which final numbers are available), a total that includes 123,000 “on-demand, short run, and other unclassified” titles. Of the 274,000 classified titles, 43,000 are “fiction,” a category that includes “strictly adult novels (including graphic novels) and short story collections.” (There are separate categories for anthologies, literary criticism, poetry, drama, etc. Oh, and “adult” is opposed to “juvenile,” not a synonym for porn.) If the same ratio holds for the unclassified category, we’d have another 19,000 novel-like entries, for a total of 62,000.

The U.S. isn’t the only (predominately) English-language book market in the world, of course; Britain’s is about the same size, Canada and Australia are significant, and there are many English-language novels published elsewhere. But there’s also redundancy in some of the titles shared between markets, and a portion of the new titles are only new editions or bindings of previously-released texts. (As an aside, I wonder how many of the books published annually ever exist in more than one edition? I’d bet it’s a much smaller number than our scholarly experience with canonical-ish texts would suggest. I also wonder how many new U.S. titles are in languages other than English.) Accounting for all of those factors is more work than I want to do at the moment, though I’d love to hear what other people know about them.

In the meantime let’s assume, conservatively, that the global total is on the order of twice the U.S. number. In that case it seems pretty safe to say there are around 100,000 new English-language works of long-form prose fiction published globally each year. That’s a ballpark number, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it’s off by more than a factor of about two, and it’s certainly of the right order of magnitude. Conclusion: I can go on using my line about the number of books I’m not reading.

[Update, 29 September 2010: See also this follow-up post on numbers from the UK. And note that Bowker has since released figures that include 2009; the major story there is that “nontraditional” volumes (reprints of public-domain classics and print-on-demand, mostly) have exploded in the last few years, now far outnumbering (by about 3:1) the mostly flat traditional volumes. Sales are another matter, of course.]

[Update, 30 July 2012: I see there’s been some bit rot at Bowker. 2011 numbers (with prior year figures) are now available. In general, this info is released annually via a press release in May or June for the previous year. If a specific Bowker link is dead, search their site for something like “publishing industry” or “publishing output” and the most recently past year (2011, etc.)]

38 thoughts on “How Many New Novels are Published Each Year?

  1. Another question to ask….as a writer…how many novels are written each year and submitted for publication to come up with the 100K fiction works newly published each year…Is it a 10:1 ratio? 5:1? 20:1?

    If it’s 20:1 that means 2 million writers finished their novels in the year…

    • Bowker could say definitively, but I think this is anything with an ISBN (since that’s where they get their stats). So in principle it would include ebooks, but since the numbers are through only 2007, I can’t imagine there are many included here.

  2. lots of books published — lots of songs released — lots of pictures painted and so on. As my uncle the used car salesman used to say “there’s an ass for every seat.” Extraordinary works of art don’t come along very often in any case.


  3. hum………………………………………..well….just like there are alot of college grads every year…..alot or most are “C'” students…….
    I’d like to see a list of great fiction Literature….if i could please…

  4. I am trying to see what the traditional publishers trends look like for discovering and publishing first-time novelists over the past 20 years. In print. Any idea where to find that? I believe it has declined from the 1980s but would like hard numbers if possible. Thanks.

  5. A lot more than the author thinks. Lots of them are CRAP. Sorry self-published people but there’s so much narcissism in you attempts. You hardly read or buy books but you want to be an AUTHOR. The fact that one in a million of the self-published makes it big makes the illiterate crowd go for more vanity crap!

    • I do think that many people who are doing the self publishing thing, etc. are doing their writing knowing full well that it is going to be recognized as, shall we say, less than a literary masterpiece. They are doing it for fun, as a hobby. I think that if one is to speak down to these people for what they are doing, it would be the equivalent of ridiculing someone who enjoys singing for fun (and who is not necessarily great at it) doing karaoke and not sounding as good as a the top-notch singer that originally recorded the song in a five-million-dollar studio with a trained production staff. Cheers.

  6. I am working on a fiction project (novel) right now. I suppose that I hope it will be read by many and seen as something special. Nonetheless, this is by no means guaranteed, to say the least. I believe this endeavor is much like most artistic endeavors most of us undertake: we do it because it is fun, because it is a challenge and it is enriching and rewarding to go through the process and complete it. If someone wants to be a fiction writer (especially as a hobby), great. Have another “back up plan” however if you are somehow hoping to do it for a lucrative living.

    • Since a novel is a fiction project, all one has to say to convey that you are working on a fiction project that is a novel is: “I am working on a novel right now.” But what is the adverbial phrase “right now” for? “Am working on” is present progressive tense. It indicates an ongoing action in the present. So all you need to convey the thought is “I am working on a novel.” Redundancy and other problems afflict the rest of the comment. What does “to say the least” add to “by no means” as an intensifier?

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