Posted on July 12, 2011
In the early 1990s, my local Barnes and Noble bookstore carried a few vegetarian cookbooks but not one was vegan. Things are different today; a delightful variety of vegan cookbooks occupy store shelves but they are usually still outnumbered by vegetarian cookbooks. Vegetarians outnumber vegans and so this is to be expected but what exactly is the ratio between vegan and vegetarian titles?
To answer the question, we first need simple rules to place books in either the vegan or the vegetarian category without having to flip through these books. My data comes from Amazon.com, which I believe offers the most comprehensive searchable resource on books today. I decided to place in the vegan category all books that use the word vegan in the title or subtitle. I decided to place in the vegetarian category all books that use the word vegetarian but not the word vegan in the title or subtitle. A small fraction of books (less than 5% in recent years) that use the word vegetarian also use the word vegan in the title/subtitle. My reasoning for placing these books in the vegan category is that they are often vegan-centric or sometimes entirely vegan (e.g., Vegetarian Times Everything Vegan). The exceptions are more than made up by the fact that many books that use the word vegetarian and not vegan in the title/subtitle are actually entirely vegan (e.g., Great Vegetarian Cooking by Lorna Sass, among my favorite vegan cookbooks).
The following plot depicts the cumulative number of printed books in English published or to be published in 2011 that fall in one of the vegan and vegetarian categories described above. I decided that merely having an ISBN number did not make something a book; I only counted books that meet the commonly held notion of a book. For example, I excluded 4-page laminated cards, research reports sold at unseemly prices of nearly $800 each, and magazines sold as bound volumes. And, I added an additional curmudgeonly rule: anything with less than 100 pages is a booklet, not a book (with the only exception granted to children's books). To all the authors who thought they wrote a book and I insulted their creation by calling it a booklet, sorry!
The graph is semi-interactive; you can hover your mouse over any point and read off the data. The plotted numbers are cumulative and so, for example, the number reported for March is the number of book titles published in 2011 until and including the month of March. Obviously, not all books to be published in 2011 are announced yet. But, of those that are at the time this post was written (July 12, 2011), we have 76 vegan titles but only 73 vegetarian titles. So, apparently, vegan titles may outnumber vegetarian titles in 2011! This is not the case if you count the booklets too because, for whatever reason, 2011 was a boom year for vegetarian booklets (with as many as 20 of them with 30 pages or less!).
The obvious next question to ask is if 2011 is the first year in which one finds more vegan book titles being published than vegetarian titles. There was no booklet boom in the earlier years and so, for the following graph I did not filter books by page numbers but I used all of the other criteria used in the previous graph. The following graph depicts the number of printed books in English published each year since 1970 under the two categories.
So yes, vegetarian book titles have always outnumbered vegan book titles and 2011 may be the first year in which vegan titles will surge ahead of vegetarian titles. We will know for sure in January 2012. In the meantime, the two graphs above generate some questions that deserve answers:
- The surge in vegan books beginning in 2008 is actually unremarkable because there was a similar surge in all printed books in 2008 (may be because self-publishing really took off during this time?). Vegetarian books fare even worse except for a spike in 2010 which looks unlikely to be sustained in 2011. What is remarkable is that veganism is eating into vegetarianism and the ratio of vegan to vegetarian books is rising. What was it that started a surge in vegan books in 2008 that somehow did not create the same surge in vegetarian books?
- There was a steady rise in vegetarian books from 1989 to 1996 and then a somewhat unsteady decade-long decline from 1996 to 2006. I can understand the rise but the decline puzzles me. If you consider that the number of vegetarian books reduced by half during this same period in which total of all printed books published per year actually doubled, the decline is especially puzzling and also troubling. Why did the number of vegetarian books decline through an entire decade? What went wrong?
I don't have answers to these questions. Do you?