Print books are going away in record numbers, but not in the way you think.
In fact, Bowker Research’s 2012 Report on Print Book Publishing indicated that print titles published rose 6% to 347,178 in 2011 with another 1.1 million published titles of reprinted public domain works.
That’s a lot of books.
Reporter Claire Lawton of the Phoenix New Times in an article titled Disappearing Ink investigated what happened to those books when no one wants to read them any longer. It’s a fascinating piece. Thanks to one of our favorite clients, Susan Anderson of Tempe, Arizona for passing it on to us.
What happens to used books? People donate them to the friends of the library or other charitable agencies, you say, or sell or trade them at a used bookstore. Lawton found that was growing more difficult all the time.
In 2010 the Chicago Public Library announced that book donations would no longer be accepted. Libraries across the country followed suit.
At bookstores trading used books, Lawton found that “…book buyers say they are getting pickier and pickier — taking a small percentage of what customers bring in for sale and trade.”
Most used booksellers will tell you that books they don’t buy and you don’t want are donated to charity, but “…on more than one occasion, clerks have admitted to customers that what's left behind is tossed in the trash.”
Booksellers do even more “tossing.” The American Booksellers Association acknowledges that “…book-selling chains often decide to claim losses on unsold paperbacks, and to do so, all they need to do is mail the cover to the publisher or wholesaler.” The Huffington Post reports that, “…bookstores return 30 percent to 40 percent of books to publishers every year, and between 65 percent and 95 percent of returned books are destroyed and shipped off to paper-pulping plants.” The Daily Mail tried to put an actual number on the quantity of books to be pulped in a 2009 article How 77 Million Books a Year Are Turned Into Pulp Fiction.
The issue of preserving content in the digital age is the other side of the disposal of books. Robert Spindler, head of the Archives and Special Collections Department at Arizona State University told Lawton, “"I have no doubt that we're throwing away more books than ever before. And as a result, libraries are now racing to scan what we've determined are endangered books and preserve the information."