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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's a thriving book market

I'm just back from two weeks in Los Angeles, two weeks spent at a National Endowment for the Arts University of Southern California Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater.

What does that have to do with books? Well, other than that it was an institute for arts critics, there was also a lot of discussion about our country's cultural affairs. One of the sessions was with Doug McLennan of artsjournal.com. McLennan addressed the cultural landscape and the health of arts culture versus commercial culture.

He pointed out that while commercial culture--defined as movies, television, radio, and the like--has been experiencing audience and financial losses in the range of 20 percent to 40 percent, arts culture has been losing at the rate of only 1 percent to 4 percent. He quoted Chris Anderson's The Long Tail in saying that our culture is moving from a mass culture mindset to a niche culture mindset.

One of the supporting details he brought up was book publishing. In 2005 there were 195,000 titles published. That's up 72% from the previous year and sets a new record. Of those, however, only 250 will sell more than 100,000 copies.

It's a shift in thinking. We're not all reading the same books anymore. Even the topsellers aren't selling as much as they used to. However, we're also reading more than ever before. We've entered, as Ben Cameron, program director at Doris Duke Charitable Foundation would say days later, a new culture of abundance.

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