Posted by: biblioglobal | July 30, 2014

What countries publish the most books (relative to GDP)?

In the process of putting together the numbers for my post on reading the world logarithmically, I noticed that some countries with similar population sizes vary widely in how easy they are to find books for. Sometimes that is true even for countries that speak the same language and are in similar parts of the globe.

I started wondering about the variation in publication rates between countries. Having had so much fun with data-crunching posts recently, I thought I would do some exploring. The results turned out to be quite interesting!

I used data from,  a neat website which displays world maps in which the area of each country is scaled based on a particular statistic, whether it be population size or the number of nurses in a country. Here is their map for book publication: They very helpfully make the data they use available for download which made it easy for me to play around with it. Unfortunately, they have actual data for only 100 countries, so my results are somewhat limited. More detailed comments about the data are at the bottom of this post.

At first, I just looked at books published per capita.

Here’s the top 10:

Books published per million people:
1 Vatican City 228000
2 Iceland 5987
3 Denmark 2677
4 Switzerland 2538
5 Finland 2533
6 Estonia 2512
7 Andorra 2507
8 Monaco 2195
9 United Kingdom 2135
10 Slovenia 2118


And here’s the bottom 10 (keep in mind that data is missing for nearly half of the world’s countries and that countries with few books published are probably more likely to be missing data):

Books published per million people:
90 Myanmar 4.64
91 Oman 4.29
92 Algeria 4.25
93 Mali 2.62
94 Democratic Republic of Congo 2.19
95 Angola 1.67
96 Benin 1.36
97 Togo 1.04
98 Indonesia 0.56
99 Burkina Faso 0.40
100 Ghana 0.34


Surprise! Wealthier countries publish more books than poorer countries! You can see this quite clearly by graphing per capita GDP versus books published per capita. (I had to leave out Vatican City because at about 40 times more books per capita than any other country, it completely dwarfed all the others. Plus, Vatican City is a special case and I don’t think it’s reasonable to compare it to other countries.)


Iceland really does stand out with more than twice as many books published per person than any other country. I wasn’t surprised by this because Google is full of articles about how 1 in 10 Icelanders is an author. But it is also a pretty wealthy country which gives it a bit of an advantage.

I wanted to identify the countries that aren’t necessarily publishing the most books, but that are outperforming their economic situation. To do that, I needed some equation to calculate the expected number of books published for a given GDP. I tried a linear regression first, but that wasn’t a great fit for the data. A power law gave a better fit and seemed to be less biased for/against countries at the upper and lower end of the GDP scale. Then I calculated the percentage by which each country’s actual publication rate differed from the prediction.

I’m not going to list the bottom 10 countries, because I think that list is misleading for several reasons. I can say however that countries with high oil production tend to under-perform. It seems that oil wealth does not translate into literary wealth.

Here are the 10 countries which published the most books relative to their economic status:

Books published per million people:
Predicted: Actual:
1 Republic of Moldova 10 271
2 Estonia 311 2512
3 Belarus 87 613
4 Kyrgyzstan 12 82
5 Malawi 2 15
6 Georgia 21 134
7 Sri Lanka 43 246
8 Lithuania 236 1171
9 Latvia 197 947
10 Armenia 35 166


I find this result fascinating! (Iceland, by the way, just missed inclusion at #12) First of all, 8 of the top 10 are former members of the U.S.S.R, with the Baltic region being particularly well represented.  I particularly enjoy the fact that Moldova comes out on top, given that they so often get attention for more negative statistics. Sri Lanka, it turns out, makes some sense as it has a quite high literacy rate for a developing country- 91%.

Malawi’s presence on this list startled me. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa and in the world. In an absolute sense, the number of books published there is small. But it is huge compared to comparably poor countries. When I did web searches for books in Malawi, I found several commentaries complaining about the dearth of books in Malawi, but it seems like they may be doing better than they think.


More details:

  • The countries used by Worldmapper.prg are not entirely the same as my book-from-every-country list. For example, their list includes Vatican City, which I don’t include.
  • Amongst the many countries for which data is missing are both U.S. and China. There are other numbers for publication rates in the U.S. but I didn’t include it in my calculations since the source is different. If I had included it, the U.S. would have come out somewhere in the vicinity of Norway, which is the right-most point on the graph.
  • The data that used are from UNESCO. I can’t figure out how to look at the original data for UNESCO, so I don’t know how they collected the data. It also seems like UNESCO may no longer be collecting data on book publication rates, which is unfortunate.
  • Book publishing data are for year closest to 1999 for which there is data. To make their map, Worldmapper used estimates based on other countries in the region for countries which lacked data. 
  • GDP data are for 2002 because that’s the closest year to 1999 that was in the Worldmapper dataset. GDP data is in terms of $US, corrected for purchasing power parity.
  • There are a lot of problems with the use of GDP as a measure (some of which are described very well in this post). I strongly oppose using GDP as a measure of progress or development. I use it here as a rough measure of a country’s economic status because it is widely measured and easily available.
  • The specific list of countries which publish most relative to their GDP depends on the choice of what type equation is used to calculate prediction publication rate. My choice of equation type was somewhat arbitrary, and definitely not scientific. That being said, the countries listed are clearly ones that are publishing a lot relative to their economic status.


  1. Really VERY interesting stats. Many thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Yeah, not what I was expecting at all!

  2. This is some VERY serious research! :)))

    • Nah, it’s mostly just fun! 🙂

  3. This is very insightful ….great post!!

  4. Love this post! It certainly is very revealing when you look at publication that way.

    • Thanks! I enjoyed getting results that I wasn’t expecting at all, but that still somehow made some sense.

  5. You could start an entirely new blog on book numbers! They are fascinating and I’m glad you mentioned there was no US data. I was like um I wonder where the US falls, you would’ve mentioned it.

    • Man, I don’t know how you keep up with two blogs (and now a podcast)! I can barely keep up with this one! I’ll definitely continue to include the occasional numbers post here though.

      I really do wish there was more complete data. To be missing the U.S. and China is missing big portion of books published in terms of raw numbers. (Also, good job reading the footnotes!)

      • Haahaa – I don’t know how I do it either, but as I have designated post days for the two blogs it’s not too difficult. The podcast is another story all together!

        And that’s very true about China it would be fascinating.

      • Designated posting days may help, but you still have to get those posts written!

  6. It struck me that I came from the second lowest country for books published per million people (Indonesia), and now I am in the UK (no 9). It was a good move after all.. It surprised me that Iceland published more than twice the number of books per million of people compared to the UK, wow.

    The statistics of the Baltics country also fascinates me, especially since I just spent 4 days in Estonia and Latvia! Will need to get reading some literature from the region 🙂

    • Do keep in mind that Indonesia is only second lowest of the countries where there was data. Results are missing for almost half of the world’s countries. You definitely have access to lots of books in the UK though!

      Neat that you’ve been traveling in Estonia and Latvia! I hope you’ll be posting about your journeys! My parents were in Estonia recently and brought me back an Estonian book, so I’ll be doing some Estonian reading soon.

  7. This was really fascinating! I wonder if they read a lot in Iceland too? It seems a silly question, but publication rates and readership are not necessarily connected.

    • My impression is that they do read a lot too. But that’s just based on anecdote I think. I haven’t seen any actual data.

  8. We may have a lot of books in Estonia, but I see you (like majority of English speakers) have not read any Estonian books.

    And considering the pressure of English, it is likely next generation of Estonians might be reading in English

    • Not yet, but I will be reading an Estonian book very soon! My parents visited Estonia recently and brought me back a copy of Petty God by Kaur Kender. I’m also always happy to hear more recommendations!

      Your point about English is interesting and something I think about often. I like the idea of more people around the world being able to communicate with each other, but I also don’t want the world to become completely homogenized.

      Thanks for stopping by, I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog.

  9. Very informative and instructive. This is clear example of precision journalism, whereby you use data to create news. The report is quite fascinating. Malawi is a big surprise. With a population of about 170 million, Nigeria is missing in action. Kudos for this wonderful job.

  10. I am a researcher. Could you please give the full list? Second, what do the books published per capita mean? Does it mean that the Icelanders produced the most books only by themselves or that they also imported some of the books (or the copyrights of the books) and sold within the country?

    • Thanks for your interest. All the data I used are from WorldMapper and I linked to the data in the post. There may be more details there about how the data were collected.

      • I looked at First, they are the titles of the books published, not books. Second, the 8th, 9th and 10th countries are Luxembourg, Ireland and Monaco respectively, not Monaco, UK and Slovenia. First, I thought that the data might have been updated but even the numbers are the same. Third, Ghana is the 200th, not 100th. Fourth, the page gives only the top and bottom countries. Where did you get the scores of Belarus, Malawi etc.? are you kidding? What kind of a research is this?

      • This is simply me having fun crunching numbers on my blog. If you want to do serious research on this subject you will need to do your own analysis. Please use kinder language when commenting here.

        I believe the discrepancies you are seeing are because the WorldMapper list includes estimated values for countries for which data are missing. As I say in the post, I excluded countries for which there was not data.

  11. I am sure is false too. Its graphic shows Japan publishes (!) more books than the North America. US is the biggest exporter and importer of the books. Japan wasn’t even in the top 10 in 2005. See the pages 262 and 266 (286 and 290 according to the program) of I hope you are having so much fun so that many people make comments about Malawi, Belarus etc. as if…

    • Yup, the UNESCO dataset doesn’t have any data for the U.S. For countries where they don’t have data, WorldMapper uses an estimate based on the countries on the same continent. That estimate is clearly not accurate, especially for the U.S. That’s why I didn’t use any of the estimated values, including the U.S., in my analysis.

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