On one of the mailing lists I belong to, someone commented about how Publishers Weekly was basically declaring the imminent death of science fiction. According to PW, sales of SF were down 21% in 2013 and another 7% in 2014. In other words, SF sales were down approximately 4.14 million units and now is smaller than the graphic novel market. Needless to say, yours truly (as well as everyone else on the list including the person who posted it) met those numbers with skepticism. My concern about the accuracy of the report came not only because it was from PW but also because there was no breakdown as to whether this was talking print only, print and e-book sales and how those numbers were gathered.
So, yours truly went searching for more information this morning and surprise, surprise. It turns out we were right to be skeptical. It seems that those numbers come from Bookscan. You know, our friendly neighborhood sales reporter that doesn’t count every sale from every outlet but uses handwavium to figure out what title has sold how many units. Bookscan that doesn’t track every title, as in most indie titles aren’t included. Bookscan that is iffy at best when it comes to reporting e-book sales. But, if we are to take PW seriously, we are to worry about the decline in demand for science fiction.
Sorry, but no. If PW and those looking at the figures and wringing their hands would know if they simply took a little time to think about it, all these figures show is that people are tired of what is coming out of most traditional publishing houses when it comes to SF. I say most because it is my belief that Baen has not been hit like others, say TOR, because Baen is different. Baen worries about putting out a good story. Baen is run by folks — hi, Toni! — who like to read and know that readers want to be entertained and not preached to. Sure, there are messages in many of Baen’s titles but you aren’t being hit over the head with it. Besides, I don’t know about you but I would rather read books where we see the strength of the human spirit, where freedom and exploration and exploding spaceships are more important than pushing some social agenda.
So, PW only looked at Bookscan numbers and that means they limited their sampling to basically only traditionally published books. Sure, some small press and indie books made it but not the vast majority because Bookscan and e-book sales just don’t play well together.
That figured out, I started thinking about my own earnings from the Honor and Duty books as well as the earnings my friends who also write SF have been making with their e-books. Hmm, our figures and earnings don’t seem to match what PW said. So, curious, I went to Amazon and checked the top 10 best sellers. It didn’t surprise me at all to see that, out of the top 10 in SF best selling e-books, only three were from from traditional publishers and one of those is a reprint. If you continue looking at the rest of the titles in the Top 100, you find that the vast majority of them are either small press or indie published books. That should say something. The lesson there is that science fiction is not dead. Far from it in fact.
That isn’t to say that the numbers PW posted are completely wrong or that those reading them see a decline in SF sales. Where they are wrong is in how they interpret the numbers. Like the Emperor with his new clothes, they are refusing to admit that the masses — in this case, the readers who are willing to put their hard earned money down to buy books — see through their illusions of grandeur and realize that they are marching down the street wearing nothing. Their need to push their agenda, political and social, have stripped away good story telling and now the Emperor is naked and, well, he doesn’t look nearly as good as he thinks he does. So the readers have turned to other sources, sources where story telling is still important.
So, if you are like me and you enjoy a good story and not being beaten about the head and shoulders with the cause du jour, I urge you to buy your membership to WorldCon so you can vote for the Hugos. We have sat back too long and let the “in crowd” decide what is the so-called best in the genre. I can remember when reading a Hugo winner meant you would read a well-written and entertaining book. Now, well, not so much. Message has become more important than story and that, in my mind, is a shame. Consider this my endorsement for every reader here to watch Brad Torgesren’s blog for more on Sad Puppies 3. Brad has valiantly taken up the banner to fight for good, entertaining science fiction and fantasy to read and recognized. As for me, I’m off to buy my membership and then figure out who I am going to vote for.
Now, go read a good SF book or, better yet, write one for me to read!