In another stunning display of both truth in publishing and meticulous attention to the data, the latest release from AuthorEarnings takes on another facet of the traditional publishing industry, namely the lies surrounding scifi and fantasy publishing. In a presentation at the 2018 SFWA Nebula Conference, cape-wearing number cruncher Data Guy presented findings that dispel a number of long-held myths. These include: science fiction and fantasy audiences are shrinking; titles in that genre aren’t selling like they used to; smaller advances for these authors are justified by the probably lack of return; and several others. Of course, how does AE do it? By tracking the actual sales figures from the world’s largest bookstore and Nielsen/BookScan.
The very first fact brought up shows an apocalyptic line graph with the gut-wrenching drop in scifi/fantasy book sales, starting around 2009. Further data points showed that SF&F sales dropped farther and faster than any other genre. Why, you might naively ask?
First, does it matter why? Of course it does, but according to the report, publishers weren’t so much concerned about that as they were justifying unfavorable contracts for SF&F authors, fewer manuscripts hitting the shelves, and more. But before answering WHY, there’s another finding in AE’s report: bookstore shelf space for SF&F was also shrinking, possibly in a Catch-22 of lower sales resulting in less visibility and promotion which cycled back into lower sales looping ad nauseum.
But now let’s see what AE had to say about this tragedy: WHAT happened in 2009 that might have led to a drop in SF&F sales? Oh wait, it wasn’t a drop in sales…it was a drop in “print” sales. Who could have guessed that the science fiction and fantasy fans MIGHT be early adopters of e-reader?!
“While only 25% of overall sales for traditional publishers are ebooks, that’s not at all true for their SF&F titles – 37% of traditionally published SF&F purchases are ebooks,” the presentation stated. Additionally, 15% of traditional SF&F sales are audiobooks, which is higher than other genres in traditionally published titles. Furthermore, this doesn’t even touch the self-published SF&F sales, which accounts for 52% of all SF&F sales.
The rest of the highly detailed and insightful presentation slides can be found here, but the takeaway is this: much like other high-profile genres, science fiction and fantasy are doing just fine, depending on which publisher you ask. Authors would do well to be cautious about information that claims their work isn’t selling as a whole, or simply isn’t as valuable as it once was.
“All it [the data] tells us is that SF&F sales have doubled since 2010, and that the majority of SF&F’s sales are going unreported now, understating SF&F’s true popularity with readers.”