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The history of rhythmic literature can be summarized by one interesting question posed time and time again: is poetry a dying art? Haters would say so. The nonchalant would most likely agree. From the 2000s to the early 2010s, trending was the “death” of poetry. According to the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), the percentage of American adults who read at least one poem has been on a decline since 1992.
By 2012, it has fallen by more than half—from 17% to less than 7% twenty years later. Even with the rise of the internet, its Google searches resulted in the opposite direction. Since 2004, the total search volume for anything involving “poetry” dropped to less than a quarter by 2014.
These statistics make it no less surprising that from 2004 to 2007—for four whole years—only an approximate 12 million poetry books in total were sold. It sounds even bleaker when Statista projected that roughly 10,000 new units under the genre would be published in the US by 2013, showing the minimal difference from the previous year.
Gone were the rockstar days of Shakespeare and Dante. Audiences would rather catch the latest Harry Potter installment or vibe to a jazz concert. Poems were left to collect dust on shelves and for school requirements. Were the critics and the haters correct then? In today’s market of everything and everyone seeking attention, had the soft-spoken verses of poetry sputtered and died?
Lang Leav, Rupi Kaur, r.h. Sin, and many of fellow New York Times bestselling contemporary poets prove otherwise. Roughly 28 million American reading adults argue. Enter 2017. The year brought a drastic upscale shift in rhythmic literature. Poetry’s heart beats again—harder every year.
Let’s dive deeper into interesting and up-to-date statistics on today’s poetry.
The renaissance of rhythmic literature exploded in the late 2020s where their popularity began gaining traction and attention. National Endowment of the Art (NEA)’s statistics took the poetry world (and its haters) by storm. Results from the 2017 SPPA hit the record highest readership in the US in a 15-year surveying period. Their findings: 11.7% of adults have read poems in 2017. It’s a five-point increase from the 2012 statistics (6.7%) and a three-point rise from the 2008 survey period (8.3%).
We’re talking about 28 million people picking up poems—an incredible leap after the discovery that a quarter of American adults have not finished a whole book in the past 12 months. On the other hand, readership among young adults (18-24-year olds) has doubled, reaching 17.5% from 8.2% six years ago. Although their demographic already make up 60% of all readership, more women readers also joined the fold with a 14.5% increase while 8.7% more men (from a lower 5.2%) decided to peak their poetic interests that year. Overall, these gained the US a 21% compound annual growth rate in sales from 2013 to 2017. From being “dead”, poetry has become one of the fastest-growing genres in publishing.
Across the sea, Britain also earned its share. According to Neilsen BookScan, their sales rose by 15% in 2017. 611,990 units of poem collections were sold for £5.5 million just for the year-to-August 12. This shows a 13% increase in value from 2016’s data. A year later, UK’s sales grew for the second year in a row. 2018 presented an over 12% increase that totals to 1.3 million units sold and £12.3 million in revenue. Their biggest buyers fell to teenage girls and young women, aged 12 to 22, making up 41% of consumers.
2018 was also a big year for Canada’s poetry sales. 483,675 units were sold, earning a revenue of $11 million. From these statistics, however, BookNet presents a decrease in the 2019 Canadian Book Market Survey. Half a million dipped to a quarter of a million books sold that’s worth nearly $6 million in value. Regardless, that’s far from discouraging for the publishing industry when selling 5,000 units in 2008 was considered lucky.
Poetry’s revival was an interesting turn in the age of social media. What kept it alive?
Social media’s pulse
In 2018, Rupi Kaur alone sold 150,000 units of her book; the next year, only 50,000 copies were produced—the probable difference for the drop in Canada’s sales. It may sound like too much of a stretch, where powerhouse poets dominate the market, but it’s become a reality for today’s publishing industry. According to Kaur’s publisher Andrews McMeel, the genre has been “reinvigorated and reinvented” for a new generation. Publishing fingers point to social media, which the NEA Director of Literature suspects as the biggest contributor to the rhythmic literature’s reborn flame.
From social media came Instapoetry. From posting images of creative verses on Instagram came Rupi Kaur. And Lang Leav. And Atticus. And r.h. Sin. Their feeds, among many others’, were converted to printed collections flocked by their readership (in millions) upon release. Instapoet books made up 47% of US poetry sales in 2017. In the same year, Andrews McMeel earned £122 million in revenue from Kaur’s literature alone. The publisher also handles Leav’s and r.h. Sin’s collections, both of whom place in the Top 20 Bestselling Poets in 2017.
While without criticism, social media undeniably made poems viral. 2012 struggled with the lowest participation in the literature. Now, Kaur’s first release Milk and Honey was even discussed in Emma Watson’s global book club, Our Shared Shelf, with more than 200,000 members on Goodreads.
Organizations also happily rode the wagon Instapoets kickstarted. Academy of American Poets (AAP) cites a 45% increase in subscribers for the Poem-a-Day series that distributes poems daily on social media. According to AAP, the 21st Century reading habits further contribute to the virality of poems. Digestible short texts that are easily shareable influence how much people are willing to scroll through literature on their phones. Five years ago, only 19% bothered. By 2018, more than 40% of readers read poems digitally.
Interesting trends and statistics have argued: poetry is alive and beating. It has a virality and accessibility that it never had before. It seems the rhythmic literature never died, merely preparing for a grand comeback—now, it fights to stay.
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