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?
And boy are our arms tired: Josh transcribed 6500 words of interview and I wrote 3500 words of article and blog post on Monday (holiday, shmoliday) and we’re still recovering! But it will be worth it when the SF/F focus issue comes out this coming Monday, September 10, and you can read the profile of Seanan McGuire, the feature article on genre-blending, and the nifty little sidebar on Christian inspirational epic fantasy, plus a Q&A with Iain M. Banks. PW subscribers get instant access; the rest of you will have to wait three weeks.
In the meantime, some links to tide you over:
- Justine Larbalestier is brilliant on “Racism in the Books We Write”. If there’s been a theme for this year in my part of the world, it’s taking responsibility; Justine’s post is a great example of how to do that without defensiveness.
- Aliette de Bodard is equally brilliant on the scale and scope of engineering projects.
- ChiZine is launching a YA imprint, ChiTeen. Agented subs only at this time. First books will come out in 2014.
- There are some complaints that Worldcon could have done a better job with accessibility, even given a convention center that was an absolute maze (and probably not ADA-compliant).
- Ustream apologizes for cutting off the Hugo ceremony; apparently once the automatic ban went into effect, they couldn’t turn it off, but it could all have been avoided if the Hugo administrators had just paid for the service. Apparently that post got a number of angry comments before commenting was turned off altogether.
- PW reviewer John Ottinger III is part of the movement to make September 7 (today!) National Buy a Book Day in the U.S. Will you #buyabook today?
StoryBundle is a new e-book self-publishing outfit that’s taking an intriguing approach. Each bundle of five books is pay-what-you-like, from $1 on up. If you pay over a certain amount–either a fixed number or the average of how much people have paid so far–you get two additional books (in the case of the first bundle, they’re sequels to two of the other books). You also get to decide how much of your purchase price goes to the authors and how much to StoryBundle. This is a pretty neat end run around both pricing structures and royalty/markup arrangements. The sliders default to a $10 payment split 70–30 between author and seller, which works out to $1 per book if the boost threshold is $10 or less. You can also choose to donate 10% of your purchase to a charity of their choice.
All the bundled e-books will be DRM-free. After the bundle expires, the books will be available from the individual authors, presumably via the e-book store(s) of their choice and going by those stores’ policies on DRM.
The books are all described as “indie”, which seems to mean “self-published” rather than “published by independent presses”; the first bundle is SF, and the only name I recognized in there was Joseph Nassise. A quick glance at the author bios suggests the rest are debuts. I assume StoryBundle is acting as publisher in some capacity, but it’s hard to tell how far it goes. They select books from a slush pile (their site says they’re open for submissions) but don’t seem to offer editing or cover design–maybe they only want books that have already been self-pubbed elsewhere. Regardless, $1 for five books sounds like a pretty good deal, at least if the excerpts on the site appeal to you.
What do you think of this setup? Will it become the Woot.com of e-books? Or is it asking too much of readers? I’m pretty wired into the industry and I struggled to decide where to put that percentage slider. I don’t think most readers have a sense of what’s a “fair” or “reasonable” split between author and publisher/seller, and I wonder whether people who purchase those bundles will generally leave the slider at 70–30 or adjust it. An interesting experiment, to say the least.
Edward Champion has posted an amazing list of indie bookstores near the stores that Borders is going to be closing, including estimates of how far each one is from the closed store. Here are the listings for NYC:
Borders Bookstore #566
100 Broadway, New York, NY 10005
The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren St., New York, NY 10007 (0.7 miles)
McNally Jackson, 52 Prince St., New York, NY 10012 (1.5 miles)
Borders Bookstore #228
576 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Revolution Books, 146 West 26th St., New York, NY 10001 (0.7 miles)
Idlewild Books, 12 West 19th St., New York, NY 10011 (0.8 miles)
Books of Wonder, 18 West 18th St., New York, NY 10011 (0.9 miles)
Borders Bookstore #200
461 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10022
Center for Fiction Books, 17 East 47th St., New York, NY 10017 (0.7 miles)
Rizzoli Books, 31 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019 (1.0 miles)
If your local Borders is shutting its doors, this is your chance to change your buying habits just a little and support independent bookstores instead. Remember that any bookstore can order just about any book for you–I recently requested a title from McNally Jackson via Twitter direct messages!–and won’t charge you for shipping. And smaller staff are more likely to get to know your reading preferences and make suggestions for new books you’ll enjoy. In my experience, the days of grumpy, reclusive bookshop clerks are long gone. If it’s been a while since you visited your local indie, give them a try before retreating to the safe, sterile world of online book ordering.
Maura McHugh reports that a new SF/F bookshop, Alien8, has opened in Wexford, Ireland. Eoin Colfer was slated to lead the grand opening ceremony, which fortuitously coincided with the local Wexworlds SF convention. I’m thrilled to see other countries getting genre bookstores and wish more of them would open up here, especially as I was just reminiscing about the days when New York boasted of Forbidden Planet (back when it was enormous, and more about books than comics) and the Science Fiction Shop and Science Fiction, Mysteries, and More. These are tough times to be starting a business, but perhaps the Ireland bailout will trickle down to the local fans and give them more cash to spend on books.
Speaking of which, if you have a local independent bookstore, please support it! This is the make-or-break season for a lot of retailers, and competing against Amazon gets harder every year. Books make great gifts, too, and if you buy them new, you’ll be making a gift to the author and publisher as well as the store and the gift recipient. If you love having a local haven where the knowledgeable staff respect your literary fetishes and hand-sell you the books you didn’t even know you wanted, please show them your love by helping them pay their rent. (And be a polite customer, or @BOOKSTOREHULK SMASH!)
If you’re tired of books, you can always buy monster supplies, pirate supplies, or superhero supplies to support writing programs for kids. I must visit that Ministry of Stories shop when I’m next in London.
I love the idea of National Short Story Week; just because the nation in question is the U.K. doesn’t mean we can’t observe it on this side of the Pond. Maybe I’ll read one of the enormous collections that can really only be consumed in full over a four-day weekend. If you’re a SFWA member, you could get started reading and rereading Nebula-eligible works, now that nominations are open.
Angry Robot is–pardon me, they’re British, Angry Robot are–observing the holiday by announcing the December 1 launch of individual digital short story sales through their online store. You can buy stories individually or bundle them in a sort of make-your-own-anthology setup. I’ve wanted this sort of thing for years, though of course in my ideal world the store wouldn’t be limited to stories from a single publisher, and you could share your anthology TOCs and see which ones were most popular and turn them into POD print books as well as e-books. As I see it, the short story is the closest publishing equivalent to the song. It’s high time we started treating anthologies and magazines like albums, and giving customers the opportunity to make their own mix tapes.
In nonfiction news, the Science Fiction Oral History Association (which I did not know existed until this weekend) has launched an extraordinary podcast, Space Dog, which will broadcast recordings from SF history. The first episode features Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Lester del Rey, Frederik Pohl, and Gordon R. Dickson shooting the breeze in 1976. Wow.
If Stephen King’s new book is so amazing, why does it only have three and a half stars on Amazon? Because disgruntled would-be customers have left (as of this writing) 42 one-star reviews complaining that the discounted hardcover, at $14.51, is priced below the Kindle edition, $14.99. Selected quotes from those comments:
“At first I could not believe my eyes: the Kindle download is more expensive than the hardcover version. This is outrageous!”
“I’m a huge King fan but won’t be reading this one until the price comes down to a reasonable level.”
“Unfortunately as a retired senior I can’t afford $14.95, so your one star review is not about the short stories. I haven’t read them.”
“Please kindle owners – don’t buy books that are overpriced! This is the only way that the publishers will bring the prices down!”
“Value is quality vs cost, so basing reviews on cost IS valid! While I did download the sample and found the writing excellent, and did wish dearly to be able to read more, I absolutely unequivocally refuse to pay more for an ebook than a physical hardcover.”
This has happened before, of course (and infuriated several authors of my acquaintance). Perhaps it’s time for Amazon to put up separate star ratings for pricing and availability; they could collect some interesting data that way, in addition to protecting authors from lost sales due to customer disgruntlement over things that have nothing to do with writing quality.
The fabulous Gwenda Bond just linked to Weightless Books, an e-book store that stocks a wide range of titles from two of my favorite indies: Small Beer Press and Blind Eye Books. All the books are DRM-free PDFs and priced to sell. Looks like a very cool little venture, and it’s heartening to see publishers collaborating on an e-book store given the recent news about Samhain.