read read read

M.J. Rose may well be the most connected writerly person ever. Or at least just now, in cyberspace. She’s an author but she also writes about publishing and the challenges facing authors.

She’s got a post up that serves as a call to arms. The message: the publishing business will continue to decline unless people start not just to read more, but also to invest in buying books.

Using stats published by R.R. Bowker. worked out that if we keep publishing at the rate we are publishing now, in 2052 148.4 million books will be published — but only 129.4 million Americans will actually read a book.

Do the math. This means 19 million new books will not find a reader.

Even if this is an exaggeration, those of us in the industry know that the challenge we all face is how to keep people reading and how to get more people reading. With the internet, cell phones, iPods and other listening devices, laptops, cable television, netflix etc there is no lack of competition for the book.

She’s got some suggestions for ways to encourage reading. For example, if you’re off to dinner at a friend’s house, bring a book instead of a bottle of wine. I’m thinking there are lots of occasions where books could be substituted for traditional gifts, but not everybody may appreciate the gesture. A book for mother’s day would suit me fine, but many might not feel that way.

So the problem is more than just getting books into people’s hands. It’s getting people interested in reading the books once they’ve got them. Getting them into the reading habit. And that’s harder to do.

M.J. is launching a recurring feature. She’s asked popular authors for a list of books to read this summer. The first one up is Lee Child (whose books I often write about here). I’m curious to see who else she’s got lined up.