How Many Books Exist in the World?

atkins-bookshelf-booksThe development of ink, parchment, paper, and the printing press led to one of man’s greatest intellectual inventions: the book. Books can change people and nations; books teach, inspire, and pass on the wisdom and insights of previous generations. In short, books are the DNA of our civilization. Beginning in the mid 1400s, books have been able to disseminate new ideas efficiently and effectively all around the globe. Despite the development of the Internet in the 1990s (another of man’s greatest inventions), books still play a vital role in communicating ideas in the modern technological world. For example, in the U.S. alone, more than 300,000 book titles are published each year; when you consider worldwide publishing, that number rises to more than 765,000 titles published per year. But let’s get back to the central question: how many unique books exist in the world, or asked another way, how many books have been published since the 1400s?

In 2010, the team behind the Google Books project decided to tackle this challenging question. First, they began by defining a book. Leonid Tatcher, a software engineer, writes: “One definition of a book we find helpful inside Google when handling book metadata is a ‘tome,’ an idealized bound volume. A tome can have millions of copies (e.g. a particular edition of Angels and Demons by Dan Brown) or can exist in just one or two copies (such as an obscure master’s thesis languishing in a university library).” Next, the team collected data from more than 150 book catalogs, including Bowker (the company that assigns International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), the Library of Congress (LOC Control Numbers), and the Online Computer Library Center (WorldCat) that contained more than a billion unique raw records. Using complex algorithms to exclude items that were not books (maps, audio recordings, videos, etc), duplicates, and government document volumes, the Google team arrived at a more accurate count. As of August 2010, there are 129,864,880 books in the world; or stated another way, there are 129,864,880 books that have been published.

But here we are in 2016, six years after Google’s book count project. Enter the curious editors of Mental Floss who wanted to know the number of books that exist in the world today. Using data from Bowker and book industry data, the editors calculated that as of September 2016, there are more than 134 million (134,021,533 to be more precise) unique books in the world — enough to fill more than 684 miles of bookshelves; a bibliophile’s paradise. And that is a lot of DNA.

Read related posts: How Many Books Does the Average American Read?
How Many People Read the Harry Potter Books?
How Many People Read Books?
Most Expensive Books Ever Sold
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization

For further reading: The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston

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