Libraries Are Not Publishers’ Enemies: a Response to the Statement Made By Shinchosha
On November 10th, Takanobu Satou, the president of the Shinchosha Publishing Co, Ltd., made a startling statement; libraries are partly responsible for the drop in book sales. He then asked libraries to refrain from lending new books until after a one-year period. This request has sparked much debate in the social media, with users voicing conflicting opinions. Supporters of Satou’s demand, however, are forgetting that he lacks concrete evidence to back up his opinion.
Book sales have indeed been declining over the past few years, while more library books are being borrowed. According to Asahi Digital, publishing companies are only selling 70% as many books as they used to in 1996. On the other hand, in 2014, people in Japan borrowed almost a hundred million more books compared to the number from ten years ago. Regardless, there is no evidence that suggests more library access directly contributes to a decrease in sales. It is, in fact, strange to think that libraries are to blame for this decline. Libraries have been around for a long time, even when the number of publishing companies was growing.
There are more plausible causes of this downward trend. It can be inferred, for instance, that the growing digitalization of books have had an impact. Ever since e-books entered the market, customers have been drifting towards the more technologically advanced approach. According to the New York Times, e-book sales increased by 1260% between 2008 and 2010. People are also losing interest in reading in general. A study published in 2014 by the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations reveals that approximately 40% of 1000 university students surveyed read “0” hours in one day, which is a high number only equivalent to that of the year before. These are all plausible causes of the problem. By focusing on an unlikely cause, one risks losing sight of the whole picture and overlooking an effective solution.
As a possible solution, I believe that libraries and publishing companies could cooperate more. Firstly, the existence of one benefits the other. Libraries are dependent on the publishers to produce more books, and publishing companies increase their revenue when libraries showcase good books that readers will want to buy. Publishers and librarians are also united by a common goal: preserving the publishing culture and spreading the joy of reading. Finally, both are struggling to adapt to an evolving society. Today, the printed book is threatened by its digital counterparts. What better way is there for these mutually dependent facilities to survive than to help each other out?
In a way, Satou’s statement is reflective of the current situation for publishing companies. Faced with a changing society, one that is not as enthusiastic about buying books, publishers are desperate to claw their way out of the slump. Fortunately, their attempts are beginning to bear fruit. Some publishers have incorporated electronic books to their products, as reluctant as they may be about it. A recent study actually shows customers who read e-books more willing to buy print books. As to where the publishing industry is heading in the long-term, only time can tell. In the meantime, publishers should focus on overcoming the obstacles by cooperating with libraries, not making absurd propositions.