Banned Wagon

In celebration of Banned Book Week (go ahead, let your hair down!), I thought I might muse about some good news.  Since I already posted on my banned book (Slaughterhouse Five) I need another angle of approach.  One of the less envious aspects of being an editor at an academic press is being yoked to facts.  Many authors have a basic misconception about numbers in their heads.  They think their book will sell on the scale that Barnes and Noble, such as it is, will stock them on the shelves.  I have to admit that I dream of walking into a bookstore and finding one of my titles on the shelf—and I know it’s not likely to happen.  Those of us who work in publishing see the hard figures, how many copies have actually sold.  And the results can be quite sobering.

The news isn’t all bad, though.  I ran across an article by Andrew Perrin titled “Who doesn’t read books in America?” and the way the question was phrased made me think.  I’m used to thinking of it the other way around: how many people read, or buy, books?  I once read that about 5% of the US population constitutes the book-buying market.  Now, that is a large number of people, even if it’s on the smaller end of the overall spectrum, but Perrin’s article from the Pew Research Center states that only 24% of Americans state they haven’t read a book, whole or in-part, over the past year.  This, I think, is cause for celebration.  It means more of us are reading than are not, even if we don’t always finish the books we’ve started.

Think of it like this: whether print or electronic, people know to turn to books for information.  Oh, there are all kinds of details I’m leaving out here—the safeguards of a reputable publisher over the self-published manifesto, as well as the self-published brilliant book over what managed to squeak through the review process at a university press because an editor felt the pressure of a quota—but the numbers are encouraging nevertheless.  Looked at this way, more people are reading than are not.  And the best way to promote books is to suggest they should be banned.  That’s why I don’t despair of the shallow books praising Trump—if they’re banned they become prophetic.  Academic books, my colleagues, don’t sell as many copies as you might think, even if they’re not banned.  The good news is, however, that we haven’t forgotten whence to turn for knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Banned Wagon

  1. Jeremiah Andrews

    Hey Steve,

    People are just too preoccupied to read. The eat, sleep, and go to work. Many people I know, just don’t get it that an hour spent in a book before bed, is therapeutic. Most people on the “work” spectrum don’t make time to relax or do something worth while, that does not entail email, or their smart phone. I carve out, each day a period of quiet. In the AM to read your daily reflection and some meditation, and in the PM to spend an hour inside a physical book, before bed. If it does not have pages to turn, I won’t bother with it. I see lots of people here in the city, at our local book sellers, Indigo, when I go to the brick and mortar store.

    If you buy Indigo online, you save the brick and mortar additional taxes and shelf fees. That’s usually 10 to 12% more on top of the book price. If I have enough spare time I will visit the store. But for the most part, I can just one click it and get a new book inside of two days shipping.

    When the Harry Potter craze was alive and well here in Montreal, people showed up in droves hours before book launches to stand in line all costumed up. They packed Indigo from top to bottom. You don’t see that much any more, but Indigo does get steady traffic, daily. There are only a handful of book sellers, of the monopoly type here in the city. Indigo, Chapters, Coles, and Paragraph books.

    Inheriting a book shop upon retirement sounds exciting. Would love to find myself a shop like that that I could get lost in for a few years. There is a nice shop in Ottawa near my best friends place we go to, and that place is stocked to the gills with books on two floors. You’d never go hungry in that shop for sure.



    • No doubt online suppliers and the internet in general cut into bookstore viability and reading time, respectively. I find that the internet demands so much free time that you can actually feel guilty for stepping away to read a book! Bookstores are more expensive and require time and effort to get to. That’s part of the quest.

      Quite often I find books I didn’t know about by going to a brick-and-mortar. Amazon and other online algorithms seldom “get” me or my reading patterns. I know what I need when I see it. If I can afford to, I buy it in a bookstore. Nevertheless, Amazon does give you bang for your buck. If only you had time to read…


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