I was doing my writer’s math again this week. It’s pretty basic – debits and credits – mainly debits, as we don’t get a lot of royalties and the bills are still, well, the bills – they don’t go away. Some statistics lay in front of me:
1) The average male adult reader reads only 4 books in a year, and 1 in 4 adults has not read a book in a year.
2) Book readership declined 10% between 1992 and 2002. No stats yet on the decline since
3) The number of writers has been increasing, thanks to self•publishing
4) Dan Brown’s five blockbuster books sold 120 million copies and JK Rowling’s super•blockbusters have sold 350•400 million copies (source Wikipedia), taking out many from those numbers of readers who only read, perhaps, one book a year.
5) On average, “other books”, mainly self•published books, sold 72 copies per title
6) Despite all of the above, people are reading more today, thanks to blogs, wikis, tweets, texts and e•mail – mostly talking about newsworthy items – like blockbusters!
My permutations quickly made me realize that as blockbuster sales increase and readership declines, this double whammy will soon reduce the publishing industry to “blockbuster•only” publishing. Print•on•Demand notwithstanding, there will be so few buyers of non•blockbusters, that eventually the POD industry will be forced to consolidate like the traditional guys have been doing for ages. Non•blockbuster writers will become tellers of tales around a campfire – where it began once upon a time, before the printing press was invented. For why bother to write it down anyway, if no one bothers to read it?
There are of course the many side•options for eking out a living in this trade: writer•in•residence, creative writing instructor, editor, proof•reader, freelance writer, corporate speech writer, marketing communications writer, political speech writer, screenwriter, playwright, writing contest organizer (I like this one – read my other blog on this topic), writing retreat organizer and blog writer for hire – all options that the writer could dabble in to pay the bills. Or he could simply throw his hands•up and apply for government grants to keep hunger at bay. Writers might also become performers of their work, like Dickens and Twain did successfully. In that vein, I am loading up my upcoming book launch with poets and hip•hop singers and others who could make it a memorable event – i.e. performing words instead of merely reading them.
Or we could throw the whole damn thing out, get a day job and die unhappy.
I am generally an optimistic person. I don’t believe in dead•end day jobs, or in being limited to sitting around the campfire, or in empty blockbusters that only entertain but do not educate and enlighten. I think that determined writers will continue to write, and as a last resort, use the most potent weapon in their arsenal: the Internet, the same medium that helped fragment their universe in the first place. They will pour out their creativity into blogs, wikis, web sites, and provide free content on the Internet in the hope that in some near future, this unleashed creativity will become the bedrock of a new, more literate generation. And so, I live, and write, in hope.