Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Drop in the ocean

Every once in a while, a business book comes along with an insight so fundamental that it enters the everyday popular culture of business-speak. Think of The Tipping Point for example. Or Random Walk Down Wall Street. Or (much as I hate to admit it) The Black Swan. A recent book in this category is Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. "The future of business is selling less of more" claims the sub-title of the book. And it provides numerous mind-bending examples of how there are so many more movies, music and books that only a few people in the world are consuming, and how there is a market to serve each of those super-niche markets, using technologies that are now commonplace.

All of which is interesting, but not what I really want to talk about. The thing I really want to talk about is a statistic in The Long Tail that got stuck in my head. Anderson informs us that there are approximately 200,000 books written every year in the English language. 200,000!

I started wondering, how much can a man who is not a professional book reviewer or talent scout or publisher really read in a lifetime?

Let us say you are an active reader with a regular job, a family and some life beyond books. How much could you read every day on an average over long periods of time? 20 pages, 30? 50 (if you are a particularly fast reader)? Say on an average, books are 200-250 pages long. So you could probably read a book every 4-12 days. Of course, if you exclusively read chick-lit, or thrillers or 'page-turners', you could probably do more ... but then, why would you want to? 4-12 days a book. Or about 30-90 books a year. If one has this average for every year of one's life between the ages 20 and 65, this really active reader might end up reading 1300-4000 books. Let us say that the 'book universe' one could choose from is the universe of all books published in the 75 years surrounding their lifetime. That makes a total of 15 million books to choose from. Think about that. 15 Million!!

So in your entire lifetime, even if you are a very active reader, you are likely going to read only about 0.01-0.03% of all books you could read. So - here is a piece of Brick and Rope advice. Don't read any odd piece of trash you can lay your hands on. Be super-selective about what you read. Too many books, too little life!

1 comment:

  1. hey dude... how many books do you think will you read a second time... if you are only going to read 1300-1500 in life... my advice "donate them"... people who can't afford them will have one more good book to read...