Are There More Writers Than Readers?

No doubt about it. There are a LOT of writers these days.

Of course, we have no way to count exactly how many people have taken up writing. But it seems like I continually meet people who are either in the process of writing a book or are interested in doing so. I realize that since I’m an author, people are more likely to confide in me their writing aspirations so that it may only seem like more people are writing.

But still, I’m amazed at the numbers of writers I meet in real life and around cyberland. In part, the growth of the internet has made the writing industry more visible and accessible. People who may have once only considered the idea of writing a book, now find that they have all the information they need for every step of the process.

Additionally, with the growth of e-books and self-publishing, anyone anywhere can publish a book about anything. As the news spreads of the ease of e-publishing and the successful self-publishing stories are circulated, even more writers step forward to enter the brave new world of publishing.

In the meantime, while the numbers of writers is increasing, the numbers of readers is at a steady decline. We don’t need NEA reports to prove that reading is at risk and continues to lose the battle to other forms of entertainment and activities. We only have to look around us at our own diminishing reading habits and those of our family to see the trend. In the digital age, electronic devices (internet, DVDs, video games, etc.) entice would-be readers more than ever before.

In the November issue of RWR (Romance Writers Report), a 2010 report cited various statistics about reader buying habits. Here a just a couple quotes:

• “Over 100 million adults did not buy a single solitary book in 2010.”

• “Domestic net sales of adult mass-market books were down 6.3% in 2010.”

• “While the e-book segment has experienced large growth in the past few years, analysts claim that few new readers have been created—the segment’s growth is due to 'siphoning' off print book readers, and the gains on the digital side are not making up for losses on the print side.”

With the ever-increasing number of writers publishing books (or hoping to) and the ever-decreasing number of readers, what’s the outlook? It appears to me that the supply of books will soon surpass the demand of readers—if it hasn’t already.

So what’s a writer to do in the face of such an outlook?

1. Make sure we know what we’re up against.

While more opportunities are opening up for writers, that also means the publishing pie is being cut into smaller pieces. More of us will get a slice and taste of publication, but our share of profits will likely be less. With all of the competition, we’ll have to accept that even with our best marketing efforts we may hit a ceiling. Even traditionally published authors like myself are facing new challenges with sales.

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, posed a question on her blog, “What if there were no money in writing?” She mentioned that it’s becoming harder for writers to make money as readers are moving toward an attitude of being unwilling to pay much. Therefore, we must indeed ask ourselves how much effort we’re willing to expend on our writing careers if we’re unable to eventually receive the compensation we long for.

2. Don’t discount writers as future readers.

As the writing population grows, a portion of writers will also become our readers. Over the past couple of years, many writers have let me know they’ve read my books as a direct result of getting to know me through social media. Writer Lindsay Harrel said this last week: “Because of your great blog tour, I am currently reading my copy of The Doctor's Lady (and loving it!)! So it at least worked to hook one reader, and I'm sure many more!”

Another writer, Karrie Myton, sent me an email saying this: “Your blog has helped me in countless ways. I like hearing your voice in your writing, but I was afraid to read your fiction. I worried that I wouldn't like it, and that I would lose faith in your writing expertise. I needn't have worried. I started reading The Preacher's Bride last night and struggled to put it down to take care of my kids.”

3. Writers can take the lead in purchasing books.

We need to be careful lest we fall into the trap of thinking that all those readers out there will take care of buying our writing friends’ books, and we won’t need to. The fact is, writers, more than any other group should know how important it is to actually purchase books (as opposed to waiting to get a free copy).

We obviously can’t buy every book of every writer we know. But we can make a point of supporting (aka buying books) as generously as we can—if not for ourselves, then as gifts for people we know.

So what’s your opinion? Do you think we’re moving toward a day when there will be more writers than readers, when the supply will outweigh the demand? What do you think writers can do to weather the changes?

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