Saturday, July 16, 2016

Can the Book Industry Afford More Immigrants?

The United States was built on immigrants and today it relies on inexpensive labor from the country’s newest and poorest to fill jobs like lawn care, house cleaning, and taxi driver.  But we pay a price, as a country, when the immigrants don’t fully assimilate, get educated, and learn our language.  For the book industry, an increase in English-speaking immigrants would be welcome, otherwise we have to rethink who comes into our land of freedom and opportunity.

If language becomes a barrier, it impacts not only our economy but our culture.  Diversity and multi-cultural are great things to have, but only to a point.  If every group becomes a minority there’s no core or cohesion amongst the groups.

The US is at a peaking point.  Though we’ve had varying levels of immigration at different periods of time, as a percentage of our population, the foreign-born are surging here.  In 1970, 4.7% of Americans, were born elsewhere.  In 2010 that nearly tripled to 12.9% of the country – or 40 million people.

Some don’t like immigrants because they say they threaten jobs for the locals, because they bring crime or terrorism, or because they ghettoize an area and turn it into another country.  But immigrants have also contributed to the nation’s growth and help shape the ever-changing image of America.

In 1850, the first year the Census measured foreigners, 9.7% of Americans were born elsewhere.  By 1880 that share jumped to 14.8%.

One in eight Americans comes from somewhere else.  But in NYC, every third person hails came from another country.  Queens shows that half of its residents are foreign-born and there’s a one-mile section where 150 languages are spoken.  How can we sell English-language books to all of these foreigners?  How do these people – and their American-born progeny – immerse themselves into an American culture that is so mixed and diverse that its foundation is an undefined moving target?

One set of my grandparents and one set of great grandparents emigrated here from Europe, primarily Russia and Poland.  I can’t be a hypocrite and say close our borders.  But I would suggest, where possible, we seek to let in those who are educated in English.  It will just make life easier for all and instead of burdening our education system with English-illiterate masses, we can focus on assimilation.

The book industry needs more consumers and for more of them to consume greater quantities of books.  If foreigners don’t speak our language, they can’t buy our books. So now this pits two principles against one another.  We want diversity and to give the opportunity of the American Dream to more people, but by doing so we may be weakening or eroding our native culture, economy, and book industry.

Maybe the answer can be worked out in the form of a trade-off.  If we can step up our ability to export English books and to teach English to more people overseas, we’ll gain book readers and consumers.  Perhaps the U.S. should instruct potential immigrants that their odds of entry increase if they show proficiency in our language.

Policy experts, politicians, and businesses have grappled with this issue for decades, no centuries, and the debate won’t end anytime soon nor end in a way that will satisfy everyone.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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