Sam Harris and The Number of Books Translated Into Arabic

I was watching a video where Sam Harris was criticizing Islamic views of the Quran in which Harris made the same claim as this Tweet of his from 2015:

A quick Google search suggests that Spain’s current population is about 47 million, while there are about 366 million Arabic speakers, so that would an amazing statistic, if true. But is it true?

The source for this is Arab Human Development Report 2003 ?Building a Knowledge Society (2mb PDF)  which was spearheaded by Dr. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, director of the Arab regional office of the UN Development Program. According to that report,

Most Arab countries have not learned from the lessons of the past and the field of translation remains chaotic. In terms of quantity, and notwithstanding the increase in the number of translated books from 175 per year during 1970-1975 to 330, the number of books translated in the Arab world is one fifth of the number translated in Greece. The aggregate total of translated books from the AlMa’moon era to the present day amounts to 10,000 books – equivalent to what Spain translates in a single year (Shawki Galal, in Arabic, 1999, 87)3 . This disparity was revealed in the first half of the 1980s when the average number of books translated per 1 million people in the Arab world during the 5-year period was 4.4 (less than one book for every million Arabs), while in Hungary it was 519, and in Spain 920. (Figure 2.9.)

The Alma’moon era refers to the seventh Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813-833. So Harris appears to have good grounds for his claim.

In the United States, there are roughly 300,000 new and re-issued books published every year. Roughly 3 percent of those are translations, or roughly 9,000 translated books per year for a country that has roughly the same population as Arabic speakers.

Part of the issue in the Arab world is that it isn’t just that there are relatively few translations published, but that there are few books published in general. Accurate statistics are hard to come by, but the Arab Human Development Report 2003 and other sources estimate that only 7,000-8,000 books are published in the entire Arab world annually. This is due, in part, to high levels of illiteracy,

Literary production faces other major challenges. These include the small number of readers owing to high rates of illiteracy in some Arab countries and the weak purchasing power of the Arab reader. This limited readership is clearly reflected in the number of books published in the Arab world, which does not exceed 1.1% of world production, although Arabs constitute 5% of the world population. The production of literary and artistic books in Arab countries is lower than the general level. In 1996 it did not exceed 1,945 books, representing only 0.8% of world production, i.e., less than the production of a country such as Turkey, with a population one quarter of that of Arab countries. An abundance of religious books and a relative paucity of books in other fields characterize the Arab book market. Religious books account for 17% of the total number of books published in Arab countries, compared to 5% of the total number of books produced in other parts of the world.


Star Trek Redshirt’s Little Book of Doom

It looks like IP holders are picking up on the Little Books-style pop culture mockups that have been making their way around the Internet the past few years. Star Trek’s entry is the Redshirt’s Little Book of Doom, available July 2016. You’re probably better off spending your money on this than Star Trek Beyond.



Star Trek: Redshirt's Little Book of Doom

Warlock Holmes: A Study In Brimstone

I have no clue (get it) whether this is any good, but the title alone made me laugh.

Sherlock Holmes is an unparalleled genius. Warlock Holmes is an idiot. A font of arcane power, certainly. But he’s brilliantly dim. Frankly, he couldn’t deduce his way out of a paper bag. The only thing he has really got going for him are the might of a thousand demons and his stalwart companion. Thankfully, Dr. Watson is always there to aid him through the treacherous shoals of Victorian propriety… and save him from a gruesome death every now and again.

Warlock Holmes Cover

Banned Book Trading Card Project

In order to highlight Banned Books Week last September, the Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas, solicited submissions from local artists that focused on banned books. It selected seven of those submissions and created this awesome set of Banned Book Trading Cards. The back of each card includes details on the book and instances where it has been banned, as well as information about the artists and their inspiration for the particular image.

The library gave away 450 sets of the trading cards at the library and other affiliated organizations. It also did a second print run and sells sets of the cards for $7 + 2.95 shipping and handling.


Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Run Rabbit Run by John Updike
Run Rabbit Run by John Updike
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood
1984 by George Orwell

Amazon Buys Goodreads

Ugh — so Goodreads has sold out to Amazon. I can’t blame them for that, although I can blame them for titling their announcement of the sale with “We’re Joining the Amazon Family!” I immediately see visions of Tom Hanks from “That Thing You Do” welcoming Goodreads to the Playtone Galaxy of Stars.

Anyway, according to the press release/blog post about the acquisition from GoodReads, basically this will allow Goodreads to directly integrate with the Kindle (barf) as if Amazon’s constant attempts to upsell Kindle users books wasn’t already extensive enough. But, promises Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler,

It’s important to be clear that Goodreads and the awesome team behind it are not going away. Goodreads will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site—the ability to track what you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors—and your reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads. And it’s incredibly important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even stone tablets.

I certainly hope so as I don’t look forward to having to re-enter all of my book information into some other service 6 months from now. Please, please, please, Amazon, don’t pull a Google Reader on Goodreads fans.

Why Don’t Printed Books Come with DigitalCopies?

Alexander Telander wonders why printed books don’t come with ebook versions as well. After all, even the movie industry has seen the light on this,

Take for example the recent release of the movie Moonrise Kingdom. The special Blu-ray edition includes a copy of the movie in Blu-ray, a copy on regular DVD, a digital copy that can be downloaded with a code, and even an Ultraviolet copy allowing you to be able to access the movie in the cloud to stream and download onto tablets, smartphones, computers and TVs.

Of course both Digital Copy and Ultraviolet streaming are polluted by DRM. The license for the Ultraviolet copy only guarantees access for one year after purchase, and both options place severe limitations on which devices and under what conditions you can watch the movie.

Leaving that aside, at least the movie industry is paying some sort of lip service to the idea that when you buy a physical product you might also want a file or streaming option that should just come with the movie. Why don’t publishers do the same thing?

As Telander writes,

Included with each print copy of the book is a sealed code in the back of the book for a copy of the ebook version. When the customer gets home, he or she can choose to start reading the print book edition, or decide to leave it for a spouse or offspring or even a friend to enjoy. The customer then takes out the sealed code in the back of the book, goes to the directed publishing website and enters the code to download the ebook version of the book to his or her tablet, smartphone or ereading device of choice.

I’ve been arguing for years that publishers should do something like this, but for the most part the publishing industry seems to have been enthralled with the idea of blindly repeating the mistakes of the music and movie industries. There have been a number of small efforts among niche publishers to actually provide digital copies of books with printed books, overall the failure of the publishing industry to do so has been a huge mistake.

Why don’t they do this? Telander notes that a typical family is not going to buy multiple copies of a DVD or a book for everyone in the house who might be interested. Rather, a typical family is going to buy a copy of a book and then one person is going to read it and pass it on to the next person, etc. As Telander argues, even a DRMed ebook that let me buy Harry Potter once and let everyone in my household read it would probably be fairly popular; in the long run, it would likely increase book sales.

But that’s not how publishers tend to see it. Rather, when my wife shares her Harry Potter novels with my son, all publishers seem to see is a lost sale. Don’t forget that back in 2002, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers both attacked Amazon because of the retailer’s practice of linking consumers with sellers of used copies of a book from that book’s product page. The Authors Guild even asked authors to stop linking to from their websites.

Similarly, the Authors Guild in 2009 railed against the Amazon Kindle’s text-to-speech feature because it created a “derivative work” for which authors were not compensated for.

It is because of such stupid short-sightedness that we can’t have nice things like an digital copy with every printed book, but of course in a few seconds of search I can grab a torrent of every physical book I purchase.