Take just a minute to comprehend that statement. Over half a million new books published just last year by more than 75,000 publishers. That is more than 1500 new books released every day, or 64 books every hour, 24 hours a day. I remember being outraged that the number was approaching 300,000 three years ago. Is it any wonder there's so much discussion about the "long tail" in the publishing business? Yet, the big news for the day is not the volume of titles being produced. It is that for the first time ever on-demand publishing output exceeded that of traditional publishing.
Publishers Lunch: "On Demand Books Overtake Traditional Titles for the First Time"
Publishers Weekly: "Number of On-demand Titles Topped Traditional Books in 2008"
Galley Cat: "On Demand" Books Up 132 Percent"
Bowker press release: "Bowker Reports U.S. Book Production Declines 3% in 2008, but 'On Demand' Publishing More Than Doubles: Traditional Publishing Faces Pivotal Year of Retrenching, While Emergence of New Technologies Leads to Soaring Growth in Short-Run Book Publishing"
Without a doubt, we are going to see the number of titles produced by traditional publishers shrink significantly in 2009, and on-demand and self-published titles grow significantly--again.
All of this is further evidence that the book is not dead, just changed. What we read, how we read, where we read, when we read are all changing and becoming more digital and convenient in nature. Our culture is placing increased value on user-generated content and technology provides the means to publish instantly (heck, I just published this essay), as well as the ability to take content to print and sell it on demand. I don't believe these shifts and changes eliminate the need for books. I believe it increases a print book's value.
Publisher content needs to be higher quality than user-generated content, and physical product needs to have impeccable production quality. I've quoted Clay Shirky before in a post similar to this one because I think he hits the nail on the head about the value a publishing house must bring to the development of content: "A book isn't just a collection of 80,000 words on paper. A blogger can build that up in a few months. A book is a collection of words that have been obsessed over by people other than the writer. That's what a publisher does, and that process helps a book become a focal point for a conversation or an argument."