Complaining About Babel
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Almost all books sell thousands of copies: not dozens or hundreds of thousands, let alone millions. It is said–unthinkingly–that this is a bad thing.
A film requires hundreds of thousands of viewers to justify the investment. What is the fate of films that could never attract such large audiences? They aren’t made. As a result, the number of films produced worldwide is not even 1 percent of the number of books published. If books were to cost as much as films to produce and distribute (as some do, like encyclopedias), an audience of hundreds of thousands would be required–a Hollywood-size audience. And what would happen to the 99 percent of books that could never sell hundreds of thousands of copies? No one would publish them.
Books are so cheap that, unlike newspapers, radio, or television, they can be published advertisement-free for a few thousand interested readers. To finance almost any book, it is enough to find three thousand readers willing to pay ten hours worth of minimum-wage salary. Naturally, if thirty thousand readers could be reached, it would be possible to lower the price–by half, say. But it isn’t easy to reach thirty thousand readers. Not because the lower price is still too high, but for a reason we prefer to ignore: the majority of titles published are of no interest to thirty thousand people–you couldn’t even give away that many copies.
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