Oh noes, the sky is falling

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!

28 Comments

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28 responses to “Oh noes, the sky is falling

  1. Pat Patterson

    This is all Robert Heinlein’s fault.
    He’s the one who sucked all the hippies into reading sci-fi/fantasy with ‘Stranger in A Strange Land.’ Tolkein didn’t do it; all of his fans were nerds and geeks, and were about as involved in the real world as mushrooms.
    Vonnegut didn’t really do it, but he didn’t help much, either.
    Nope, it was ‘grok’ and sharing water that brought all the hippies in; really, it was the group sex, but the public face of that was grokking. And once you get a bunch of hippies looking for meaning, they will trample down the garden faster than a flock of pygmy goats. Heck, Heinlein use to have to run them off his land with a shotgun. That whole new wave thing, with the words in twisty columns? Hippies. Dope smoking hippies. And for a while, EVERY adventure story had to be a thinly veiled criticism of American involvement in Viet Nam, or a freakazoid we are all gonna die from the bomb book. All from dope smoking, commie loving hippies.
    Of course, they entirely missed the point of almost everything RAH wrote, except when they hated it.
    But, the camel of dope smoking commie loving hippies sticks it’s nose into the tent to sniff for grokking going on, and before long, the entire tent is full of stinky camel.
    It’s all Heinlein’s fault.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I blame all social ills, at least in part, on the druggies.

      I also consider that those who were adults at the time are responsible for not dealing with the hippies then.

    • Reality Observer

      Heh. Somewhat interesting how things have changed. How it has gone from “reject what I don’t like about this book, but embrace the rest” to “reject this book because I don’t like some parts of it, but like the author” to “reject the author because he (or she) has written something I don’t like in one of his (or her) books.”

      Hmmm, perhaps this is just the logical extension – “reject the publisher because one of their authors wrote something I didn’t like in one of his (or her) (or it’s) books.” Baen already has that honor, of course – but certainly Tor and others have dared to publish a few “unacceptable” ideas, for which they “must be punished.”

      Next up are New York City, the State of New York, the United States of America, Western civilization, the human race… (Yes, I am quite aware that there are a few who are further along this “progression” already.)

    • Tolkein didn’t do it; all of his fans were nerds and geeks, and were about as involved in the real world as mushrooms.

      That would be quite a shock to my mother, who packed them around in a pocket as she did farm work.

      Not the being a nerd or geek– she’ll cop to that, quickly and possibly a bit startled you needed to ask. Just the notion that she was involved with the real world.

    • the Hippies hated Heinlein’s stuff. It was the left, not Heinlein.

  2. Jim McCoy

    Brad has valiantly taken up the banner to fight for good

    Certainly not! Brad is a loyal member of the Evil league of Evil. I’m shocked. Shocked I say!

    • robfornow

      But: But: you have to remember that what is good for Evil is “Good for Evil.” Therefore Brad is good in a evil sort of way.

  3. Dwight Swain, in his book “Techniques of the Selling Writer” writes:
    “Conversely, you cut deep into your chances for any broad success if you choose your major characters from the ranks of the weak and passive. Nothing is drearier than the story that centers on dull, apathetic people borne down by trivial problems, without the strength or imagination–the courage–to rally and fight back.” (What Sarah, I believe, terms “gray goo.”)

    And on the subject of “literary” writing:
    “To refuse to write so that a mass audience can understand you, and then rage because that same audience rejects you, is about on a par with insisting that grade-school youngsters learn their ABC’s from college physics texts.”

    These two things, I think, mark a lot of what is wrong with “Traditionally published” (particularly “award winning”) SF these days.

    • Reality Observer

      Shakespeare has always been difficult for me (although less so as I learn more and more history). Now, if I were an illiterate Elizabethan era dockwalloper – I’d have no problem whatsoever…

  4. Draven

    When i read the beginning of the first paragraph, I immediately came to the same preliminary conclusion you did. Its the same as (iirc) Rolling Stone declaring ten years ago that album sales were down- when they only used numbers from mainstream record companies.

  5. Thanks for another good post – you make me think 😉

  6. The obvious solution is to provide government subsidies to publishers who print books on paper, like God intended, with right thinking politics and the reverent treatment of glitter encrusted heroines. If we can make people buy health insurance I don’t see any barrier to requiring them to buy an APPROVED book every quarter or pay a fine.

    • Are you on vacation in France, Italy, or Germany? Because that’s who you sound like. 😉 Italy just changed their rules do that ISBN books are taxed at 4% and non-ISBN titles fall under the 20% VAT.

  7. It’s amusing that this cry goes up every year. “SF is dead, oh noes!” Until they pull a Cromwell on the corpse of Heinlein, SF will never die, However, the same can’t be said for the publishing houses who continue to follow a formulaic process in deciding what gets published and can never figure out why nobody is buiying.

  8. Luke

    Sadly, the Hugos and Nebulas have become worthless, and there’s not much that can re-attach value to them. For them to once again represent quality, they must first represent quality–and do so consistently. Over the objections of a solid majority (perhaps a supermajority) of WorldCon participants, who want them to represent something entirely different.

    It’s fun to troll them and puncture their precious little bubble, of course. But there’s no undoing the damage they’ve done. “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love” will always feature a rocket.

    As to the last… Yes ma’am!

  9. Are any of the publishers readers? I can’t imagine it.

    • sanfordbegley

      Toni Weisskopf of Baen is a reader. I think the only one but, I don’t know the others at all

      • Pat Patterson

        There’s a book called ‘Hometown’ by Cleveland Amory (Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, 1950) (I THINK!!) that’s about publishers who don’t read even their own books. Mitchell Hickock is the main character, and he has to spend most of his time explaining that he’s no kin to Wild Bill, and that Wild Bill spelled his last name differently.
        Just read and reviewed Jason Cordova’s Kaiju Apocalypse II on Amazon. That’s two in one day, I think, but Jason’s book is really a novella at 78 pages.

  10. 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.

    Tidbit I heard, though they were very careful to say they weren’t putting out any proprietary information– the numbers that you’ll find cited are below what Baen is actually seeing. Not sure if is to be attributed to BookScan being crummy on accuracy and all the numbers are better, or if it’s no less accurate on Baen than any other and Baen fans just buy in places BookScan doesn’t look. I’d guess both, since it’s the only publishing company that I’d risk grabbing on the basis of nothing but the logo. (What? I have three kids, and I was in the Navy before this– there are a lot of times when I don’t even have time to look at authors, titles or covers!)

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