As PW just reported, 2012′s science fiction unit sales as tracked by Nielsen Bookscan were down 21% over 2011′s numbers. Fantasy wasn’t mentioned in that article, but fantasy sales were down 28%. Here for your convenience are the trends in SF and fantasy, again as tracked by Nielsen (which tracks only print sales, and only from some outlets), since 2006:
Looks a bit dismal, doesn’t it?
Before we all despair, I think it’s worth emphasizing the absence of e-book sales from these numbers. Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s year-end letter noted that “At this writing 26% of [Macmillan's] total sales this year have been digital…. Just as in 2011, the percentage of e-book sales has remained consistent week by week through the year for the most part…” So the raw numbers, at least, look a lot less dismal when we consider that Nielsen is probably not picking up at least 25% of sales (a very thoroughly lowballed number).
The percentage change from year to year is more worrying, because the story is pretty much the same in every genre except romance, where the stats were wildly skewed by the Fifty Shades books. Are those former book-buyers now only borrowing from libraries and friends? buying from tiny independent outlets that Bookscan doesn’t track? pirating e-books? playing video games? hanging out on Twitter? I’ve heard any number of theories but not seen any convincing evidence one way or another.
Conveniently, the absence of data frees me to solicit anecdotes. If you bought fewer print books (in any genre) in 2012 than in 2011, why do you think that was?