In 2004 total US book sales were $22.8 billion.
Yes, I said billion.
That's a lot of books. It's actually quite a few books per reader (see? I'm not the only culprit), especially when you consider that the country's population (295 million) has a startlingly high rate of adult illiteracy.
Literacy.org says there's a 38% illiteracy rate for adults in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics (1992) indicates a 21% illiteracy rate among adults, with at least 8 million people "unable to perform even the simplest literacy tasks." According to reports in the Los Angeles Daily News, 53% of workers aged 16 or older in the Los Angeles region are functionally illiterate - meaning they can't read simple forms or compose basic correspondence. A more conservative estimate claims there are at least more than 10 million adults who are illiterate. President Bush's home state of Texas is the most illiterate.
We'll assume a proportion of those people have trouble reading English, but might be able to read in other languages, but still...
Who's reading all those millions of books?
"The largest increase in the trade book sales came in the children’s hardcover category, which the AAP reports rising to a $3.61 billion, a whopping 59.6% increase over the $2.26 billion in juvenile hardcover sales in 2004—an increase that owes much to the sale of 13.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. And this after juvenile hardcover sales were down by 16.7% in 2004. Other hardcover titles that helped contribute to the increase: 1.75 million copies sold of Christopher Paolini’s Eldest; and 1.8 million copies of the 12th installment in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.
Children’s paperbacks were up 10% to 8 million."
I'm hoping that's a sign of hope for the future.