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Bookish Britain overtakes America as top publisher

UK publishers issued 206,000 new books in 2005 compared with 172,000 in the United States.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 18:01 IST

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

Readers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean made bestsellers last year of The Da Vinci Code and the latest Harry Potter adventure, but British publishers for only the second time in 20 years churned out more new book choices than their American counterparts.

U.S. output dropped for the first time since 1999 while the number of British titles surged 28 percent, according to new data from research firm Bowker.

Britain, with one-fifth the population of the United States, has long been the world's largest publisher of new books per capita in any language, but a steep decline in U.S. publication of general adult fiction and children's books helped boost the UK's total volume to the top English-language spot.

UK publishers issued 206,000 new books in 2005 compared with 172,000 in the United States, which saw an 18 percent drop in production, according to the New Providence, New Jersey-based firm's preliminary figures.

The United Kingdom has, after 20 years, overtaken the US in the number of new books published this year 

The volume of new books has been steadily increasing since the mid-1980s as the popularity of superstores required more titles to fill their shelves, and then later the advent of online retailers made greater choice even easier to supply.

The number of annual new titles from U.S. publishers has increased 51 percent since 1995, but the growth may have hit a peak.

"Common sense will tell you that when you produce 200,000 new products -- more than any other industry -- the market can't digest all of them," Andrew Grabois, a Bowker consultant who compiled the data, said on Wednesday.

"It's not because it's physically too many, but how do people become aware of all of them?"

Bowker expects that American publishers will remain cautious this year, as well.

"The price of paper has already gone up twice this year, and publishers, especially the small ones, will have to think very carefully about what to publish," Bowker's chief operating officer Gary Aiello said.

The United States previously had published more books than Britain every year for the past 20 years, except in 2001, Grabois said.

"The question is, will British publishers face a similar market correction, or have they figured out how fewer publishers can publish more books for even fewer readers?" he said.

The U.S. output last year was the country's second highest total, after the record set in 2004. It was the 10th downturn in the last 50 years, Bowker said.

Bowker's Books in Print data base represents figures from 83,000 U.S. publishers. Grabois said he obtained the UK data from Nielsen BookScan.

First Published: May 12, 2006 18:01 IST