Too many Go Books
Dieter: I've heard that strong players who became strong in the seventies or eighties had this advantage over us: there were less Go Books. Nowadays there are so many books that, when we're finished with one, we move on to the next, thus gaining only a superficial knowledge of the ideas exposed. Of course, you can force yourself to read and reread. In those younger days however, they had no choice but doing so.
Fhayashi: Perhaps this is what happened to Japan?
Charles: It's an interesting discussion. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, some of the most obvious gaps in the literature in English are being filled. Thirty years ago you might expect that a new book (perhaps only one in a year) could give you an advantage, because something basic was being made available for the first time. I think now the knowledge required to become 1 dan amateur is all available somewhere. When that happens, players may begin to feel they can learn it from their opponents (perhaps not true at 1 kyu, 4 dan levels).
Andrew Grant: I agree. I feel that many of the newer books are just rehashing material that has already appeared in earlier books. I have pretty much stopped buying new books for just this reason - there's nothing new in most of them. 20 years ago, if you didn't buy the latest book you put yourself at a serious disadvantage. Now, it doesn't matter.
unkx80: There is also the quality of the books being sold. Here in Singapore, almost all the Chinese Go books are imported from China. In the early 1990s, the books hardly cost more than S$5 each and the contents were very good. However, as China opens its markets, the prices of the books more than doubled, and most are printed on high quality paper. However, a significant number of the books sold nowadays have little useful content and a lot of "smoke", trying to bluff its readers. Together with the growth of the Internet, Go information gets very accessible and now I also hardly buy any Go books.
John F.: Without disagreeing with any of the points above, I'd like to make three points. One is that there are quite a lot of new books in the Far East at a level and on topics that have yet to be seen in English - so there is still much scope for book study here in future. The other related point is that westerners don't buy enough books, so there is little incentive for western publishers to expand their horizons. The growing internet culture of people expecting to get things for nothing on-line is, in the case of technical go books, possibly not helping publishers either, though there are arguments to say the internet can create a market for books (let's see what happens with Hikaru). My last point is that, despite what is strongly implied above, let us not forget that there are (potentially) books about the history of the game, biographies, etc. Go study doesn't always have to be about becoming two stones stronger.
On the sales of go books, I've always known how poor they are, but even I was astounded on being told recently that one current title can only expect to sell 30 a year in the UK.
Scartol: I strongly support the comment about non-strategy Go books. I'd really like to read an overview history of the game's masters and maybe one or two in-depth bios. Why not a coffee table book about the game? I may be in a minority that prefers aesthetic appreciation to mathematic intricacy (being an English teacher and all), but I know there are others out there.
Charles: Sales depend to a large extent on distribution. I'd be surprised if John's figure included online sales. Teach Yourself Go has sold at about 2000 a year since publication. To my way of thinking that should create demand for a sequel. Publishers don't see it that way, though.
John F.: I can't remember the detail, but long-ago talks with Batsford about shogi books were revealing in what they told us about chess. Information from other publishers and personal experience bears this out in both go and shogi. A beginner's how-to-play book sells best of all by a long margin - from memory, about six times the next category, which is books on opening lines. In turn this is a long way ahead of the next category. Books on history sell worst of all. If you assume a run-of-the-mill technical book is in Category 2 and given that Charles's TYG is selling 2000 a year, a ROTM book is selling 350 a year - which equates with my experience (over time, at any rate - there's usually a rush at the beginning). My figures mostly relate to some time ago, but I suspect the bigger western go population is balanced by a bigger range of books, so figures are probably still similar. IOW [WMBT?], not enough stimulus for publishers.
Incidentally, my own Invitation to Go is being republished by Dover (at least they've paid me!). I think it originally sold 2,000 hardback, and of course quite a lot more in paperback.
At the risk of being accused of plugging, I think for completeness I should mention the option of electronic publishing. In my case this means the GoGoD CD, of course, and this is now the place to get history and player biogs, I venture to suggest. Bob Myers has a promising e-book project as well, offering commentaries. Maybe I'm not of the right age to judge the future of these things. Even though I'm addicted to computers, I still print out anything I want to enjoy reading (and BTW I also buy every go book in English simply on the principle of supporting hard-copy publishers - though I rarely read any of them beyond the preface).
Fhayashi: With demand being so low, is 'print on demand' a viable alternative for Western go authors? Is it worth your time to get a couple hundred copies of a book published and try to sell them on-line?
RobertJasiek: Every book is useful but some good books are hundreds of times as useful as those many with rather trivial contents. The problem is not that there would be too many books but that by far a too great percentage has too low quality of its contents. This is so with books in any language; English language books are not an exception here. If we look at good books only, then there are still very serious and broad gaps in the entire go literature of topics that are hardly treated at all. So as a becoming go book author, I see more scope for writing than I will have time in my life. I also believe in quality of contents and that there will always be demand for it. The medium books is not dying anywhere despite PCs and internet - so there is no good reason why just the particular market of go books should die.