When I was at Edge Lit 6 yesterday, I had mixed reports as to what was going on with the science fiction, fantasy and horror market. Some were doing business as usual. Others said they had noticed a significant drop in sales since April this year in the UK market. I suspect the truth is probably that your fiction success is dependent on what type of fiction is being sold.
Don’t ask em to describe which types are being successful and which are being left on the sellers’ bookshelves. I only took a sample, not a comprehensive study.
Meanwhile, I have added last year’s statistics of what new novels were published in the speculative fiction’s sub-genres. I also took the opportunity to add in some earlier years (1986 – 1995) into the graph. The numbers are courtesy of Gardner Dozois’ reports in his Best of the Year anthologies. In turn he obtained the estimates, as he calls them sometimes, from the Locus Magazine.
Note that Horror and Paranormal Romance only started being published as categories in their own right in 1987 and 2007 respectively.
As you can see 2016 saw a continuance of the increases in science fiction and fantasy and falls in horror and paranormal romance. In other words, 2016 was following the trends laid down in the previous years.
Horror is more or less bumbling along at the levels of the early 1990s – in other words holding its natural level. Paranormal Romance shows the standard burst of enthusiasm followed by the falling back to a level. I’m not sure whether that equilibrium level has been reached yet, but it is certainly starting to look that way.
The questions I have to ask is what is driving the increase in new novels in science fiction, and indeed fantasy? And with the increase in the number of new titles, how are the publishers continuing to make sufficient profit?
Fantasy started its upswing around about 2001, the time when the Lord of the Rings came out. Undoubtedly those films would have driven more enthusiasm for fantasy then. This was followed by the Harry Potter films. So the enthusiasm continued. Will it still continue?
Science fiction started its upswing in 2009, around about the time Avatar and the new Star Trek films came out. Will the interest continue to rise?
Are there other contributory factors? I think so…
- Writers have over these decades been asked to do more in the way of preparation tasks for publishing a novel. This leaves the publishers’ staff free to deal with more books. So they are able to process more novels into the market place.
- Print On Demand (POD) technology would have found its way into publishers’ production processes. It’s an inevitable result from wanting to push costs down wherever practicable. It means print runs can be smaller, with setting up costs minimal for new print runs. It also means warehouse storage costs are reduced because there is not the need to store such a vast number of newly printed books. So publishers have more flexibility to change to new novels
What does this mean for the science fiction and fantasy genres?
- It allows more specialism in choice of reading topics, which is helped along by the internet able to give easily accessible information for each novel. Whether this is a good or bad thing is dependent upon your view.
- By allowing greater variety of novels, I suspect the progress arc of how science fiction and fantasy would develop has both accelerated and changed course slightly. In a way, we readers can read novels that would have otherwise only been published years in the future. Again, whether this is a good or bad thing is dependent on your view.
- The shelf life of popularity of an author is dependent on them being able to carry on writing new things about their niches subject area after their first novel has hit the minimal level of success required to get sales started. When authors branch out away from their niche subjects, they have to do a lot of world building to get that new novel to the level of acceptance needed to get the hook into the market. How many authors do you know that have successful novels outside their initial niche novel areas? Science fiction is definitely going through an era of segmentation and enabling niche ghettos. Yet again, whether this is a good or bad thing is dependent on your view.
In short, I think the changing structure of the publishing business is driving the increase in science fiction and fantasy, and indeed any other genre where new ideas can come along into print.