Our dystopian present has wreaked havoc with sales of science fiction books, according to anecdotal evidence. But just how bad is it?
Because book sales data are private and hard to come by, it's hard to get reliable data for a specific genre. Author Alexis Glynn Latner blogged the other day that science fiction book sales are "way down" except for a few big established authors. But I haven't been able to dig up any actual genre-specific data so far.
Certainly, the news from the book business in general has been catastrophic in the past week. Random House reported a 6.3 percent revenue drop, Simon And Schuster saw a 3 percent revenue drop in 2008, Books A Million said profits dropped 3.6 percent in the final quarter of 2008, and Barnes And Noble predicted a 6 to 9 percent sales drop in the first quarter of 2009. (Thanks, Steven Seighman!) (You can listen to the 2008 Barnes And Noble earnings conference call, from the other day, at this link. I just listened to a big chunk of it, and didn't hear anything striking.)
Meanwhile, Cecilia Tan from Circlet Press says overall book sales were down 30 percent last year, but mass-market paperbacks (the smaller, cheaper kind) actually went up in the fourth quarter of 2008. Science fiction used to be published almost exclusively in MMPBs, but the genre has been moving slowly to the larger, more expensive trade paperback format.
But it's not all bad news: a spokesman for Borders told U.S. News And World Report recently that "science fiction and fantasy" was one of the few improving spots in the chain's sales in February 2009. (Of course, that may reflect a gain in fantasy, and a loss in science fiction.)