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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pinkshirts killing SF/F 2

It was rather amusing to see some people attempting to shake off yesterday's post on the decline in science fiction by pointing to the fact that overall print fiction had declined 8 percent, so the 7 percent decline in science fiction meant that the genre was actually outperforming. Never mind the fact that it had declined 21 percent the year before.... and after a little more research, I discovered that it had declined 21 percent the year before that as well.

In fact, SF print sales are now about half what they were in 2008. I don't place TOO much confidence in this chart, because it shows around 4 million in 2012, whereas the PW numbers indicate they should be around 5.6 million. But it does suffice to indicate that what we are witnessing is a pretty serious trend and one that involves more than the mere shift to ebooks.


A decline from a combined 26 million in print sales to 12.7 million in only five years is bordering on the cataclysmic; remember, ebooks eliminate any need for the expensive structure of the mainstream genre publishers, a fact that has probably not escaped the owners of Tor and other imprints. I'll put together some charts once I get some better numbers, but the point is that the anecdotal evidence of people increasingly avoiding the Pink SF produced by the self-appointed gatekeepers is supported by the data trend.

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45 Comments:

Blogger RobertT January 27, 2015 2:11 PM  

I don't know if I'm any kind of overall indicator, but my experience can't be all that unusual. And my case would indicate a larger drop in print sales than this graph depicts. I probably buy ten times as many ebooks as I ever bought print books. My impulse buying is pretty bad. I've been reading something on my ipad late at nite, read about a book, and switch over to amazon and buy it. It's like an alcoholic. In my own personal case, I don't buy print books at all. But then, I don't buy checks any longer either.

Anonymous Alexander January 27, 2015 2:18 PM  

I am spending no more than 10% of what I spent on books from 2000-2012. Long gone are the days I would just browse the bookshelves at the big box bookstores and dish out money because it looked like it might be interesting and why not just give it a go...

Blogger JartStar January 27, 2015 2:34 PM  

The numbers are tough to find, but from what I can tell the increase in eBook sales has not offset the loss in print. Also, it is extremely unlikely there’s anything close 1 to 1 ratio of purchases of eBooks instead of print from the major publishers, but rather thousands of self-published authors are now making money in SFF. So even if the ratio was 1 to 1, meaning there's no loss in net sales the money isn't flowing to the traditional publishing houses at the same rate.

Anonymous Noah B. January 27, 2015 2:36 PM  

There's a manatee goin' round taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the manatee comes around

Blogger AmyJ January 27, 2015 2:36 PM  

Agree with Alexander. Up until a few years ago, I spent a significant part of my time and money in the Barnes and Noble scifi/fantasy section. Now, it just simply isn't worth shelling out $8-$19 per book, taking a chance that I might like it, because not only has the quality of literature decreased (upping the chance of regret buys), but it's easier to download from my library's e-book catalog. The times they are a-changin'.

Blogger Joshua Dyal January 27, 2015 2:40 PM  

As an aside, I wonder what accounts for the spike in fantasy sales right around 2009?

Part of the problem--although only part of it--is how the publishing industry categorizes works. As much of the sci-fi and fantasy market has been pushed out by feminist paranormal romance and other urban fantasies that bear little resemblance to the genre as it was just a few years ago, I suspect that a lot of traditional fantasy and sci-fi readers have gotten their fixes in other media; movies, comics, graphic novels, etc. and let the paranormal romance just do its own thing, more or less. A lot of it has also been diverted to YA fiction, as was pointed out in the earlier thread.

Not that that's not indicative of a decline in the genre, certainly, but the good news subtext is that there isn't necessarily a decline in demand--just in supply. For that, the publishing industry has to take full responsibility.

Blogger Salt January 27, 2015 2:40 PM  

amusing to see some people ... pointing to the fact that overall print fiction had declined 8 percent, so the 7 percent decline in science fiction meant that the genre was actually outperforming

Guess they once worked for the CBO.

Anonymous kh123 January 27, 2015 2:47 PM  

Have to admit, is a bit of schadenfreude in this for me. And it makes more sense now, why after the great hue and cry over a series of books one author in particular released during that timeframe, they took up the dayjob they did.

Mene mene, as is said.

Anonymous Corvinus January 27, 2015 2:49 PM  

Yeah, I love science fiction, but now I have to do more careful research before buying anything due to all the eye-rolling leftist trash out there now.

Anonymous Daniel January 27, 2015 2:51 PM  

There's a minor facet to this trend that I pointed to earlier at Castalia House: that the Pink purveyors of truth are not just promoting their favorites (and valuing them too highly)...but they are uniformly downplaying the quality of the past eras.

My guess is that they do this to strengthen a false sense of their narrative: that as SF gets Pinker, the field expands and improves in quality.

It actually isn't that much different than what GamerGate has pointed out about the games media: that game ratings are inflated to advance "right thinking" SJW games, and that the discrepancy between buyers and paid opiners is too consistent to be ignored.

Blogger Josh January 27, 2015 2:54 PM  

As an aside, I wonder what accounts for the spike in fantasy sales right around 2009?

LOTR, game of thrones, wheel of time?

OpenID cailcorishev January 27, 2015 2:56 PM  

As an aside, I wonder what accounts for the spike in fantasy sales right around 2009?


Twilight?

Blogger Jack Hanson January 27, 2015 2:57 PM  

Is anyone published by Tor in the last decade even cracking their Top 10 list, or is it all still guys who were published decades ago responsible for them not being consigned to the trash heap?

If there's one thing Ive seen with pink shirts, its that they will drive something into the dirt for the sake of their schizophrenic world view. Strange Chemistry is exhibit A for that shit: Their flagship novel was a middling story who's 'hook' was that the protagonist was intersexed.

Anonymous Stephen J. January 27, 2015 3:03 PM  

I too have personally reduced my book budget and purchases by a great amount over the last seven to ten years, but for me it was entirely due simply to the loss of time and disposable income occasioned by becoming a father and, later, sole provider for the household at a much more demanding job. Is this part of the decline as well on a widespread basis, do people think?

Anonymous Nathan January 27, 2015 3:12 PM  

Jack, Brandon Sanderson would be the only one I'd put any real money on, as he's occupying the same flagship fantasy role that Robert Jordan did. Scalzi pops up on NYT lists every now and then, but he does not have the chops Sanderson does. Still, Card and Douglas Adams move more books than most of Tor's roster, but then I think of Tor as mostly a fantasy brand these days. They do publish science fiction, but not the stuff people remember.

That said, they're releasing the second half of the Shadows of the Apt series, so they've won back a little good will from me.

Anonymous Alexander January 27, 2015 3:15 PM  

No, because back in 2005, people were also becoming mothers and fathers (though in those happy days, not both at the same time). In fact, if anything we should see book sales go up as less people have children and families. Clearly, not the case.

Sales are down because what's produced is shit. People don't want to consume shit. People certainly don't want to pay for the privilege to consume shit. It's that simple.

Blogger MidKnight January 27, 2015 3:24 PM  

I'm amazed actually, that people can't see the point you're making.

Sure, maybe a lot of the print book shift is to e-books (guilty!).

That said, within the traditional publishing sphere, genre fiction, and SF&F in particular, have dropped faster than many other genres.

To the extent e-books are taking off, it's also in part because the people who could't get published as easily under the old regime are finding their audience there.

Again, I know I'm not the statistics, but there are far too many people around here and Sarah's and Larry's that buy a lot more ebooks these days, a lot fewer print books (maybe buy more boos overall since indie ebooks are often cheaper), and are glad to find authors that, after a long spell of dreck, we enjoy reading, which the big hardcopy publishers keep putting out to pasture in favor of aforementioned dreck.

Blogger SQT January 27, 2015 3:31 PM  

Kindle Unlimited has to be making a dent too. Amazon has its own sci-fi/fantasy imprint that Prime members can borrow for free. I read almost exclusively off of my ereader and spend way less than I did when I had to purchase a physical copy.

Blogger James Dixon January 27, 2015 3:50 PM  

I pretty much stopped reading books about 10 years or so. Now that I have a Nook (purchased used from a refurbished electronics shop for $15 plus shipping) I'm reading a few books again, but not many. My wife has switched almost entirely to ebooks over the past 3 years too, though she prefers the Kindle to the Nook. We're talking two people who went through 3-4 books/week each, and we're no longer buying hard copies to speak of.

Anonymous BG January 27, 2015 3:56 PM  

How does YA and Urban Fantasy fit into the PW numbers from the original post? Were they included in Fantasy or are they not counted?

Anonymous VD January 27, 2015 3:59 PM  

Urban Fantasy is counted as Fantasy. YA is not.

Blogger Josh January 27, 2015 4:01 PM  

Are Harry potter and twilight considered fantasy or ya?

Anonymous RandyBeck January 27, 2015 4:10 PM  

I thought it might pay to check out the Kindle rankings to see how SF figures in.

The top SF/Fantasy on Kindle at the moment, Departure by A.G. Riddle, is a borderline technothriller, which isn't a good sign for this experiment. It's self-published, which is nice.

But worse news: It comes in at #15.

At least it doesn't look outright pink. (Yes, I see the writer has initials instead of a first name, but it's not a disqualifier.)

Anonymous Joe Doakes January 27, 2015 4:44 PM  

Maybe sales aren't down, maybe it's just a category shift. If you wrote about vampire lovers in 2004, it was Fantasy. If you write about them now, it's Twilight, which is . . . what? Mainstream Fiction? Romance?

Anonymous Amok Time January 27, 2015 4:48 PM  

Except for purchases at my local Library Used Book Sale fundraising, i do not purchase new books. And i do not waste money on werewolf, vampire or dinosaur fantasies. I love the old books by Asimov, Heinlein, Anderson and the like. I have gotten a few e-novels of really hardcore SF and that is about it. The old excitement of SF is just there anymore for me. Sadly.

Anonymous Anubis January 27, 2015 4:58 PM  

Hey why are we not taking any swings at the lesbians of color with their own lick it girl scouts?
http://topconservativenews.com/2015/01/meet-the-radical-brownies-no-white-girls-allowed/
Meet the Radical Brownies, no white girls allowed!
From the city that gave us the Zebra Killers, here comes the “Radical Brownies.” A no-whites-allowed, openly Marxist version of the Girl Scouts.
The online radical left is bursting with praise for the segregated “social justice” scouts.
The group says that white girls will be allowed to join in the future, but for now it is just for “girls of color.”
The group was founded by Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, who describe themselves as “Queer Women of Color.”
These future Marxist agitators can earn merit badges in Radical Beauty, Food Justice Badge, Radical Self-Love, and Black Lives Matter

Anonymous Peter Pan January 27, 2015 5:10 PM  

@Josh, @cailcorishev:

"As an aside, I wonder what accounts for the spike in fantasy sales in 2009?"

If you really want to, you can browse this site to find out.

http://www.scifan.com/titles/year.asp?ByYear=2009

Anonymous Aeoli Pera January 27, 2015 5:11 PM  

I'm worried that this will hasten the world Cory Doctorow warns about (can't find the short story), where it will be illegal to read books without a license, because it will be difficult to find hardcover books.

Blogger Josh January 27, 2015 5:34 PM  

Amazon top ten bestsellers in sff, 2009

Looks like true blood and wheel of time.

Anonymous Daniel January 27, 2015 5:53 PM  

OT but semi-related: Firefox's marketshare is a month or three away from single digits.

Anonymous datastorm January 27, 2015 6:08 PM  

OT: NZ farms eyed as 'boltholes' for world's super rich

"Johnson, who heads the Institute of New Economic Thinking and was previously managing director at Soros Fund Management, told a standing-room-only session at the economic summit in Switzerland that the farms, homes and land were being purchased so the rich could flee here should people rise up."

Anonymous Steveo January 27, 2015 6:37 PM  

To Serve Manatees
That's a SF title that will stick in your head...

What we need is an Ilk SF list of highly recommended titles - let's vet the mess & cut to the chase.

Blogger Cataline Sergius January 27, 2015 6:55 PM  

Brad Torgersen just reminded me of something.

When was the last time the John W. Campbell award was won by a writer that John W. Campbell would have bought a fucking story from?

Blogger ManiaC Provost January 27, 2015 7:23 PM  

Great recession 2008, increase in reading 2009.

On another note, The Empire's Corps series starts out good and gets awesome. Arguably as good as Elizabeth Moon.

Anonymous Hoss January 27, 2015 7:26 PM  

They see that Hollywood says fuck you to half of America for the most part, and think they can do it too. We'll see how that business model works out for them in the long-run.

Anonymous Culture War Draftee January 27, 2015 9:43 PM  

Last SF novel I read was Gods of Mars. I don't entirely reject modern SF. I've read a lot of Barrington Bayley, PK DICK, and Michael Moorcock. I'm a bit on the fence about William Gibson.

Kidding aside, every writer must compete with the back-list. If there's still an ERB book I haven't read, why bother with Ancilliary Justice? Or why even bother with SF if it's not giving me the goods. There's a ton of Elmore Leonard & Mickey Spillane waiting for me. Why do I need Jim Hines?

Anonymous DonkeyPunch January 27, 2015 10:22 PM  

On the topic of money and sales Kameron Hurley is whining on her blog/reddit about how little she makes annually. Tacky in my opinion because she's whining about making a lot more than your average American makes. What strikes me as ridiculous is that none of them stop to think that maybe the books they write aren't as good or interesting as they think. Either way, that woman seems insufferable.

Blogger John Wright January 28, 2015 12:43 AM  

"Kidding aside, every writer must compete with the back-list. If there's still an ERB book I haven't read, why bother with Ancilliary Justice?"

Brother, you said it. I just bought a set of thirty or so ER novels for my Nook reader for about ten bucks. I am reading THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT for the first time. Submarines, evil Germans, dinosaurs, saber toothed tigers, and a mystery as to why all the different evolution levels of ape man and cave man live side by side with the noble savages.

If that kind of straight pure quill vodka-strength two-by-four-between-the-eyes pulp action-adventure goodness does not make a boy's nape hairs stand up, he cannot call himself a science fiction fan, says I. Perdition take this slime-lit masquerading as what it cannot match.

And I have not even begun to read A Merritt.

Blogger Joshua Sinistar January 28, 2015 7:28 AM  

Oh, don't worry though. Our brown brother from Taco Hell in Mexico will do the reading you don't want to do. All they have to do is write their books in Spanglish using monosyllabic easy to understand words with lots of pictures.
Also, they have to get rid of gays, strong women, egalitarianism, blacks, transgenders, liberals, and of course Jews. In their place they have to use Machismo, sexism, damsels in distress, really White Spanish people and it would help if most of the heroes were Stars of Lucha Libre! These descendants of the Conquistadors really don't have the tolerance that Americans do, you know.

Blogger Joshua Dyal January 28, 2015 7:56 AM  

Kidding aside, every writer must compete with the back-list. If there's still an ERB book I haven't read, why bother with Ancilliary Justice? Or why even bother with SF if it's not giving me the goods. There's a ton of Elmore Leonard & Mickey Spillane waiting for me. Why do I need Jim Hines?

I see your point, but even I have to admit--as a major ERB fan who considers A Princess of Mars my second favorite book period, that his entire catalog quickly gets pretty monotonous and repetitive.

Of course, there are plenty of other authors out there to explore, and with the new(ish) development of free (or nearly so) ebook releases of out of print and out of copyright great stuff from the beginning of last century, I've got plenty to explore without looking at newer writers if I don't want to.

Blogger dfordoom January 28, 2015 8:00 AM  

And I have not even begun to read A Merritt.

You have a treat in store for you.

I'm another who mostly just reads the old stuff these days. And I mostly buy used copies because since the authors are dead they're not missing out on royalties. So I still read plenty of SF but my purchases aren't going to show up in sales figures. Considering how easy and cheap it is to buy used copies of great golden age SF novels I suspect I'm not the only one.

Blogger Joshua Dyal January 28, 2015 8:51 AM  

I'm another who mostly just reads the old stuff these days. And I mostly buy used copies because since the authors are dead they're not missing out on royalties. So I still read plenty of SF but my purchases aren't going to show up in sales figures. Considering how easy and cheap it is to buy used copies of great golden age SF novels I suspect I'm not the only one.

Indeed, I've been doing that for years. Used book stores have largely been replaced in Amazon in the last ten years or so, but the effect is the same.

Blogger CM January 28, 2015 10:13 AM  

I have never read much Traditional Sf/f. I hate science fiction... just not my thing. But being a historical fiction buff, I like the fantasy genre for its allusion to historical periods and social norms.

Stephen R. Lawhead and GRR Martin have been about it on the adult scene. Most of my reading comes from christian bookstores and juvenile lit. I'll reread Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien before I venture back to unfamiliar adult lit.

It's sad and this site has largely discouraged me from even attempting much of anything else. I grew up reading classics with better story and writing than what I'm reading now, but with my relatively limited perusal into any adult genre, I find language and sex to be excuses for having poor writing and poor character development. At least JA can't rely on such pathetic tropes to obscure poor story telling.

Blogger borderwalker January 28, 2015 1:27 PM  

Anecdote =/= data. Still, this reminds me of something that happened a couple of weeks ago:

I was looking for something else on the shelf and picked up an old favorite: Footfall, by Larry Niven and the estimable Dr. Pournelle.

Right there on the cover it said “#1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER!”. Then, I looked at the Wikipedia page for the novel, and it says “…nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1986…

I thought “ ‘Nominated’? Good gods, who won?”

A quick trip to the internet revealed that Card’s Ender’s Game, Bear’s Blood Music, Cherryh’s Cuckoo’s Egg, and Brin’s The Postman were also nominated, and Ender’s Game won.

August company, indeed.

Of the five 1986 nominees, I would describe two as “monster-selling modern classics” and the other three as, at the very least, "solid efforts by established masters of the genre”.

Which raises the question: will anyone be reading Ancillary Justice, let alone bothering to reprint it, thirty years from now?

Anonymous RandyBeck January 28, 2015 2:27 PM  

>> Which raises the question: will anyone be reading Ancillary Justice, let alone bothering to reprint it, thirty years from now? <<

If I had time, I could see me reading it. But I'll read books I disagree with.

Of course, they won';t be *printing* books 30 years from now.

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