How Many Books Exist in the World? (And How Long Would It Take To Read Them?)
The other night, I was up late, having just finished a chapter of a book I was reading*, when a question popped into my head: How many books exist in the world? And how long would it take to read them?
Then, as any person in their early-20s would do when struck with such a question, I went to Google in search of the answer.
The only thing is, the answer doesn’t come down to a simple Google search.
In 2010, Google decided to determine how many unique books there were in the world since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440. Using data from libraries, ISBNs, and more, they determined that the number is 129,864,880.
But, that number doesn’t include everything.
The definition of a unique “novel” or book gets more complicated the harder you try to define it. The number doesn’t include serials or most self-published books. It does, however, include some duplicates. For example, various editions of Hamlet with different introductions or end notes.
If we take that number at face value, though, we’re still missing the last twelve years.
According to UNESCO, about 2.2 million books are published globally every year. So, if we add that data to the Google number, we should get roughly the exact number of books in 2022, right? That math gets us to 156,264,880. (If you’re following along at home, this is the quick math equation I did: 129,864,880 + 2,200,00*12)
Over 155 million books!
What’s unclear about both of these numbers though, is how many self-published titles are included in the total.
Since 2010, self-publishing has skyrocketed. And digital publishing has risen over 246%.
According to an article published in 2022, 1.7 million books are self-published every year. But because not every self-published author uses ISBNs (one of the easiest ways to track books), the number could be even higher.
So of course, that 155 million can’t include everything. There are bound to be a few books that have fallen through the cracks and not made it into…