Two very interesting, and contrasting, maps just put online suggest some fascinating conclusions about current UK publishing, book selling, and reading habits. The first, apparently a one-man production from Jakub Marian, a Czech mathematician, linguist, and musician currently living in Germany, illustrates the “number of books published per year per capita by country in Europe.” As Marian says, “I wasn’t able to find a good source of information, so I decided to make one myself.”
Based on this map, you’d expect the Brits to be the most literate, cultivated nation in Europe. After all, their publishing turnout dwarfs the supposedly intellectual Frenchies, at 2870 books published per million people, versus a puny 1010 for the French. Only Denmark – my publisher’s domicile, I’m happy to say – comes close to rivalling this achievement, at 2880 titles per million citizens.
However, another map, showing which nation has the most active readers, tells a different story. Produced by Amazing Maps from research in the NOP World Culture Score, the map shows the number of hours each week that each nation spends reading. There, British readers are apparently putting away only an average of 5.3 hours a week over their books, versus 10.7 hours in top-ranked India, or 8 hours in China, 7.4 in the Czech Republic, and 6.9 hours in Sweden or France. Instead, the breakdown reveals, they’re listening to the radio (10.5 hours) or watching TV (18 hours).
So why the huge publication figures? Well, I suspect this is actually English-language titles published in the UK but destined for the global English-language market. After all, someone must be reading them somewhere, right? The alternative possibility – almost too horrible to contemplate – is that English publishing houses are churning out title after title that no one ever reads. But then who would ever dare to suggest that UK publishers are so wildly out of touch with their reader base and so insulated from public taste? After all, the proliferation of book remainder stores in the UK would surely argue against that, no?