How many unique books have ever been printed or published worldwide? In what languages? What languages dominate the world’s publishing industry both past and present?
We can find some estimates:
“From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages.”
M. B. Iwinski estimated that 10,378,365 books was the total historical book production as of 1908. L.C. Merritt calculated in 1941 that by the end of 1940 the total book production had risen to 15,377,276 books.
Johannes Gutenberg is often credited as the inventor of the printing press in 1454. Ok, printing was invented in China. Modern printing was invented in Europe. Printing books and pamphlets was cheap in the 1600s, the century of the rise of the modern nation-state and improved literacy among urban males (dead white males). William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes both died in 1616. Fifty years after Gutenberg's press was introduced, 12 million books were printed in Europe. In 1790 alone, Europe produced some 20 million books. Between 1950 and 1975 according to some estimates as many books were published as during the 500 years since Gutenberg. Today, ten billion books and over one million new titles are printed each year all over the world. According to some estimates the worldwide number of original book titles is around 65-74 million. Some estimates go as high as 100-174 million.
Spread of the Gutenberg printing press (country names refer to modern political entities):
1454 Mainz, Germany
1460-1480 some 30 German-speaking cities
1465 Subiaco, Italy
1470 Paris, France
1470-1500 some 20 French cities
1472-1500 some 8 Spanish cities
The oldest, still running publishing house in the world is in Monserrat, Spain (Catalonia).
1476 London, England
1553 Moscow, Russia
1711 St Petersburg
1638 Cambridge, USA
1686 Philadelphia, USA
1693 New York City
1735 Germantown, USA
1752 Halifax, Canada
1764 Quebec City, Canada
1821 Hawaii, Kingdom of Hawaii
1846 San Francisco
1539 Mexico City
1581 Lima Peru
1640 Puebla, Mexico
1660 Guatemala City
1736 Bogota Colombia
1776 Santiago de Chile, Chile
1780 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Until 1808 Brazil did not have any printing activities – Portuguese law prohibited the existence of any press in Brazil. The first printing press was introduced to Brazil in 1808 when the Portuguese crown fled to Rio de Janeiro from Napoleon. During the imperial era (1822-1889), “editorial activity in Brazil was completely secondary and even the first national publishing houses used to print their books abroad”. Carlo Carrenho, The Brazilian book publishing industry and its current challenges.
Between 1500 and 1750 the most prolific languages by far were Latin, German, Italian, French, Spanish and English. Between 1750 and 1950 English began overtaking other languages followed by French and German. French remained a lingua franca well into the 20th century. German was at its height as the language of science in 1914. The 20th century saw the rise of Russian.
In 1957 according to Bowker and UNESCO nearly 22 percent of the world's new titles were in the English language. Russian accounted for 16.9 percent followed by German. According to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences five languages (English, Russian, Spanish, German, and French) accounted for 75 percent of the world book production and 40 percent of the readers in the 1960’s.
Modern book production
Graddol is often quoted in some recent studies and papers although his numbers are based on UNESCO numbers from mid 1990’s. World's yearly book production by language:
Graddol, Future of English 1997 (figures for Arabic pulled from a UNESCO report). According to data from UNESCO, over 850,000 books were published worldwide in 1996. Book production increased 50% between 1985 and 1996.
Germany published 94,716 new titles in 2006. One in ten books published in the world today is in German.
France 60,376 new titles were published in 2007.
The 90's were not kind to Russian which fell from 17% of the world's book output to a little less than 5 percent. Russian book publishing is in the meantime recovering. In 2005 Russia published 95,489 titles of which 82,273 titles were new publications, up from 36,237 books in 1996. In 2003 9,652 translated titles were published in Russia.
In 2004 and 2005 English-speaking countries produced around 375,000 books. According to a 2005 Bowker press release some 375,000 English books equal 40% of all new book content in the world. This seems excessive based on other countries' book production numbers but it may include translations.
More about this here
The two major centers of large-scale book production outside of Western Europe were in China and Japan. The average annual book production in Western Europe from 1522 to 1644 was 3750 titles, or about 40 times higher than the highest estimates for China in the same period. According to one estimate between 1644 and 1911 126,000 new editions were published in China. The average annual output was 474 – lower than the output of any major European country. China produced 17,212 book titles in 1979 and 73,923 in 1990. In 1994 China produced 100,951 titles. In 2001 China produced 140,000 titles and 89,950 new publications. In 2005 it published 222,000 titles "for an education-minded readership" (Frankfurt Bookfair). China is now one of the world’s fastest growing book markets and the world’s third largest producer of books. The problems facing the book industry in China include the lack of professional skills in editing and translation, low print runs and market fragmentation. Translations made up 6 percent of the books printed in China in 2004. An additional 8000 titles were translated in Taiwan. China is still closed. Some of the problems facing the Chinese translation business may be glanced here. A budding language learner and book enthusiast should keep in mind that according to Chinese statistics textbooks account for nearly half of all purchases. The situation is similar in India with the dubious benefit that some 45% of books are published in English. It is worthy of note that India's book production numbers have soared from 11,903 in 1996 to over 70,000 in 2004. Here you may read about some curious Chinese books.
The New York Times article tells us that a Chinese company has so far digitized 1.3 million titles in Chinese, which it estimates is about half of all the books published in the Chinese language since 1949.
Japan – according to one estimate, in the three cities of Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto between 1727-1731 some 400 new titles were produced annually and almost 600 between 1750-1754. France produced more than 1,500 books annually from 1727 to 1731 and 2,350 per year from 1750 to 1754. Japanese levels of book production were considerably below those of France and most other European countries, but nonetheless higher than in China or anywhere else in the world. Japan produced 42,217 new titles in 1981 and 45,430 in 1985. In 1996 Japan published 56,221 books. In 2004 new publications were 77,031. Japan is still one of the most prolific book producing countries offering an extremely wide variety of books. Japan faces the main problem of a mature market - declining readership. According to the Publishers Weekly, 40% of Japan’s publishing revenues comes from the manga market. Translations account for 8-10% of the annual publication of new books in Japan. Of this, 75% are translations from English.
Korea The first printing press was imported from Japan in 1883 for publishing Korea's first Korean-language newspaper Hansong Sunbo. Korea has cornered about 3% of the world’s book production. In 2003 Korea produced 35,371 new titles (roughly the same as in 1998). Comics account for 25% of sales and fiction for 13.5%. Around 29% of Korea’s book production consists of translations. In 2007 a Korean newspaper published this celebratory headline: “Korea Leads World in Translated Books”. Unfortunately the lead is in percentage of total book output rather than in the number of translations. Some 26% of translations are comics and 21.8% are children’s books. The problems facing the industry have been detailed in the book `"Are Translators Traitors?" by Park Sang-ik. Park was “disillusioned and shocked” to see how shoddy and cursory the translations were, even those done by “renowned” scholars." Many translations are retranslations from Japanese texts. More about this here.
"By the early 1970s, close to half of the world's book production was made up of translations, the chief source languages being English, French, Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian, the chief target languages German, Russian, Spanish, English, Japanese, and French. Because of worldwide demand for translation of all kinds, the 20th century has been referred to as ‘the age of translation’". Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1998.
This figure is based on US - USSR Cold War statistics. In the early 1970s 70 percent of all titles printed in the Soviet Union were translations (Literary Translation in Russia by Maurice Friedberg 1997). Around one half of all translated books worldwide are based on English-language originals. (Unesco, 2002). English-speaking countries published only 14,440 new translations in 2004, accounting for about 3% of all books available for sale. Many current novels sell fewer than 5,000 copies. In 2005, of the 172,000 new titles published in the U.S., fewer than 1,000 were literary works in translation.
The Guardian reports about the state of affairs being described by translators as "shocking", "pathetic", "scandalous". More about the "rampant imperialism of the English language" here. Yes, the author is French. A hard-boiled American prose retort to these figures and the multi-kulti tree-hugging nonsense can be found here
More recently in Germany 13% of books were translations. In France some 14%, Spain 28%, Turkey 40% and in Slovenia 70%. In 2003 11% of the 35,590 new Brazilian titles were translations (65% from English, 10% from French and 7% from Spanish). Smaller European countries tend to have a higher percentage of translations. French and German offer most translations from other languages. The free interchange between markets, cultures and languages is far from being rosy. The dominance of English may threaten the accumulation of cultural capital. Truth be told, some 2-3% of the English-language book production is more than most countries translate from English or any other language. The world's cultures are essentially talking to themselves and consuming translations from English. One needs several languages only to patch things up. Looking at Unesco's index translationum and eliminating the main Western languages as sources (English, French, Spanish, German and Italian) the following languages offer the highest number of translations for the majority of the world's languages.
The top three offer the highest number of translations, followed closely by Spanish. Japanese offers less than half as many translations as Spanish, however it's often the first choice for some major Asian languages including Chinese. Portuguese and Dutch rate rather high in the overall number of translations but once we eliminate the main Western source languages they move down the list. These seven languages offer access to a wide number of translations from languages ranging from ancient Greek to Dutch, Polish, Arabic and Chinese.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with a collection of more than 32 million books and other print materials. Approximately half of its book and serial collections are in languages other than English.
Worldcat catalogues holdings from more than 60,000 libraries from all over the world. As of January 2008 the catalogue lists more than 96 million bibliographic records and 1.4 billion individual holdings in over 470 languages and dialects. The majority are books but it also catalogues other items. As of December 2007 out of 91 million records 72 million were related to "books" (probably monographs). As of January 2005, out of some 55 million records about 41 million were "monographs". Removing records describing theses or dissertations and government documents we get some 32 million print books. Real books. Out of these there are a little over 26 million distinct works. This is where Google's figure about digitizing 32 million books comes from. Of these, some 52 percent or 16 million books are in English. A similar paper examining efforts to scan the Google 5 collection (some 32 million books held in 5 major libraries) looks at unique books and finds that English-language works represent 49 percent of the collection. Other languages with the highest number of UNIQUE titles were German (10 %), French (8 %), Spanish (5 %), Chinese (4%), Russian (4%), Italian (3%) and Japanese (2%). The Worldcat system was described in 2005 as still "heavily oriented toward North American libraries." Note the jump from 55 million records and 41 million books in 2005 to 91 million records and 72 million books in 2008. Google signed on its first French-language library, The Library of Lausanne, Switzerland in May 2007. In 2005 the Worldcat system was estimated as collecting about two-thirds of the total recent book production. Extrapolating from the above information as of January 2008 there were 56.2 million "real" books in over 450 languages that had been accounted for. Of these, some 46 million were unique works. On April 1 2008 a record for a publication from the U.S. Fisheries Laboratory marked the 100 millionth bibliographic record entered into WorldCat. By August 29 the system had 110,291,437 records. Of these there were 40,180,000 English language records, 8,765,000 German records and 4,491,000 French records. More about this here
Let's mention another attempt to "digitize everything", the Universal Digital Library. This is where the 100 million book estimate comes from. According to UDL Google is biased.