When I was a child, perusing the children’s section at my local bookstore, I asked my father how many books there are in the world. He looked at me, paused, considered, and replied I don’t know, I think that’s probably a question that can never be answered. Well, that prediction was premature and incorrect. The answer is 128,864,880.
There are a few caveats. First, this number is not about the number of “works.” My edition of Ulysses is different from an earlier edition of Ulysses, every version of a Shakespeare play would be counted differently, etc. This makes it somewhat less interesting, although certainly a great ballpark figure. I would guess that the vast majority of volumes are only printed once. I’m interested in the number of novels, written in any language, published in any fashion. Still, that number seems small. There’s also a possiblity that Google isn’t as good at counting books not written in English. Of course, I have no conception of what 100 million looks like. But considering there are 7,000,000,000 people in the world, the number is a power of 10 less and not enough to give every person a book. Here’s my question: can we expect the number of books produced to rise exponentially alongside population growth?
The Google blog post is fascinating. There’s a lot of library science going into the Google Books project along with the legal and philosophical aspects. Thier process, in a nutshell, is to combine all the existing ways of cataloging books–library of Congress numbers, ISBNs, WorldCat numbers–and use manpower, computer cycles and some interesting programming to remove the duplicates. Their current models estimates the number we have here. On one hand it’s discouraging to add a book to a reading list that’s 100 million and counting. It’s time to start eating some books.