In a post I wrote yesterday, I spent some time dissecting the idea that “people not reading” is a recent phenomenon. I don’t think it is a new development. In practice, continuing to ignore the roots of the problem costs us in a variety of ways.
One of them is our position in the world order. As big as the U.S. book market is, it shrinks a lot when measured on a per-capita basis. In fact, per-capita book sales in the U.S. are only 82% of what they are in France and 59% of what they are in Germany.
Why is this the case? In her post “If you want people to read more, teach more people to read“, my colleague and friend Laura Dawson put a personal face on the answer:
“If publishers are marketing to people who know how to read and choose not to, they are talking to brick walls. They might as well be selling vitamins, or broccoli. But if publishers focused some of their efforts on people who don’t know how to read (even in the U.S., these numbers are larger than you might think – in prisons, in rural areas, in inner cities) – well, that market is fairly well untapped. Particularly overseas.”
As Dawson points out in terms more accessible than I usually offer, we need to learn how to serve the under-served market.
Literacy is a social good, one that for-profit companies can (and do) argue is not theirresponsibility. But it is their concern. We can wait for the house divided to fall, or we can go to work repairing the foundation.