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A Labor Day sigh over summer books

Publishers are churning out fewer titles. But could that be a good thing?

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With the arrival of Labor Day, a curtain falls on a summer reading season known not only for books for the beach, but also a few shadows on the book trade itself.

In an apparent response to declining fortunes, the traditional book industry published fewer titles in 2008 than in 2007, and given the economic slump, the trend could continue.

But could readers and writers benefit from having fewer books in the publishing pipeline? That notion might seem heretical to all those bibliophiles – and I count myself among them – who usually embrace the principle that the world can never have enough books.

A casual glance at the numbers reveals that the real problem in book publishing might not be scarcity but glut. Even with an estimated 3.2 percent drop in the release of new titles last year over 2007, publishers still churned out 275,232 new titles and editions in 2008, according to Bowker, a company that tracks industry trends. And new technologies, such as books on demand, are adding thousands more.

I sometimes feel as if every one of those titles has landed on my book-cluttered nightstand, each one waiting – often for months and often in vain – to be read.

As an author, I've benefited from a literary marketplace so varied and accommodating that even I could find a publisher for my work. However, as I know from firsthand experience, the plenitude of newly published books creates a lot of white noise that tends to drown out authors who are trying to be heard.

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