I overlooked last month’s announcement from Bowker concerning the number of books published in 2009 and 2010. Condensed version: fiction is flat at a little under 50,000 new titles, literature dropped off a lot (~30%, to 8k from 11k), though if memory serves, “literature” is a catch-all for anthologies and books about literature; all novels fall under fiction, even when they’re categorized as “literary fiction.” Poetry and drama were off, too.
But—and this may explain much of the drop/flatness—“non-traditional” publication was way, way up. Like, into the millions up. Bowker reports about 316k new traditional titles across all categories for 2010, against almost 2.8 million non-traditional (mostly POD reprints of public domain works). Until c. 2006, the ratios were reversed at about 10:1 traditional:non-traditional. My guess would be that there’s also, buried in that landslide of reprints, a small but very non-trivial number of books that might in the past have been published traditionally, but now are sold direct via Amazon and author sites without the intervention of a regular publisher (note the presence of significant numbers from Lulu, AuthorHouse, XLibris, etc.).
Take-away point: There’s a lot of new fiction out there. I’ll assume most of it is awful, but then most of it has always been awful. It’s only that the sea of words is a lot bigger now.