In a blog post with the title: "Books of the world, stand up and be counted! All 129,864,880 of you," Google software engineer Leonid Taycher explains how his company has tried to calculate the total number of books in the world.
Of course, Taycher admits, there's nothing easy about this task. First, you hit the problem of defining the word "book." You can argue, as Taycher suggests, that a book is a " 'tome,' an idealized bound volume," but that still leaves some sticky questions to resolve. For instance, what about hardbacks vs. paperbacks. (Is the same book in two different versions one book or two? Google decided they are two.) Also, what about "several pamphlets bound together." (Again, one book or several? Google says one.)
Moving forward with this definition, the company garnered metadata from "many providers (more than 150 and counting) that include libraries, WorldCat, national union catalogs and commercial providers." What this process yielded were "close to a billion unique raw records."
This number, however, needed to be winnowed down to account for multiple copies of the same title, series, and nonbooks like "microforms (8 million), audio recordings (4.5 million), videos (2 million), maps (another 2 million), T-shirts with ISBNs (about one thousand), turkey probes (1, added to a library catalog as an April Fools joke)."
The end result: an estimate of 129,864,880 books in the world. Or, as Taycher put it, "At least until Sunday."
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.