Bowker, a company that tracks industry statistics, calculated that, in 2009 alone, new titles published outside of “traditional publishing and classification definitions” numbered 764,448. Yes, you read that right: upward of three-quarters of a million books in a single year. Not all of those books were intended for a general readership, but if, say, two-thirds of them were, you could just barely manage to read the first page of every single one of them in the course of year — provided you also gave up eating, sleeping and bathing. (I calculate about one page per minute; your mileage may, of course, vary.) And this is the situation even in the days before we’ve come close to hitting the crest of the new, technology-driven self-publishing boom.
At the same time, libraries are straining under the burden of paying for an explosion of journals.
From 1978 to 2001, libraries at the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, saw their subscription costs alone climb by 1,300 percent.
The amount of material one must read to conduct a reasonable review of a topic keeps growing. Younger scholars can’t ignore any of it—they never know when a reviewer or an interviewer might have written something disregarded—and so they waste precious months reviewing a pool of articles that may lead nowhere.
The content problem isn’t going away.