Does Your Taste in Fiction Change with the Popular Vote?

A recent SF tidbit linked to a USA Today article showing and increase in Fantasy book sales. This should come as no surprise given the recent successes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

More interesting to me is the pendulum-like popularity between science fiction and fantasy. Several years ago, it seemed like science fiction was the big thing, now it is fantasy.

I wonder…are the people buying the current trend doing so out of love for the genre or just its popularity? Or is it just that the popular books are more readily available (like in WalMart book aisle).

Being mainly a science fiction reader, I find that when the trend is on the Fantasy side, there seems to be less sf to choose from on the book shelves. Not a problem for online stores where the virtual shelves are infinite, but it sure makes it more difficult to find science fiction title I might enjoy.

5 thoughts on “Does Your Taste in Fiction Change with the Popular Vote?”

  1. I’m curious when you felt that the pendulum was swinging in favor of Science Fiction as far as books were concerned. My perception has been a steady swing towards Fantasy for over a decade (maybe closer to 15 years now).

    Which isn’t intended to put down any of the excellent science fiction that’s been written in that time, merely my observation of what was getting shelf space in the book stores.

    Now as far as tv and movies go, science fiction has been consistantly more dominant until the arrival of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings in our cinemas.

  2. I suppose I’m making an assumption here that popular films (LOTR, Potter) have been driving books sales, but – good point – this is my unfounded assumption.

    I just seem to remember a slew of science fiction movies, one right after the other, and at least one movie reviewer saying “scifi is hot right now”. Maybe some old Locus Magazine lists the statistics on sf vs. fantasy book sales and the trend over time?

  3. Look like my memory is flat out wrong, at least as applied to new books published anyway.

    I just pulled out the February 2005 issue of Locus Magazine which contains an awesome summary of 2004 books, complete with more charts and tables you could shake a slide rule at.

    Chart 1, ORIGINAL BOOKS, breaks down published books by type. Types include SF Novels (including young adult), Fantasy Novels (including young adult), Horror Novels, Anthologies, Reference, Collections, Onmibus, etc. Taking a look just at the SF/Fantasy numbers (respectively) for the last 9 years:

    ORIGINAL SF/FANTASY BOOKS PUBLISHED

    2004: 253/389

    2003: 236/340

    2002: 256/333

    2001: 251/282

    2000: 230/258

    1999: 251/275

    1998: 242/233

    1997: 229/220

    1996: 253/224

    Since 1999, Fantasy has seen more original books published than Science Fiction has.

  4. Wow, for once my memory didn’t let me down!

    However I don’t think you’re so much wrong as that you just assumed trends in tv and movies also applied to the written media too. For years sci-fi was clearly more popular than fantasy on tv and in the movies. In fact when The Lord of the Rings came out I had the hardest time explaining to my non-genre watching relatives what a “fantasy story” actually was.

    I believe that in fact due to the fact written science fiction really has little in common with tv and film science fiction, the popularity of one has little effect on the popularity of the other.

    Similarly fantasy books are a niche within a niche. I hate to think how small a part of the population actually reads fantasy. It exists in a world of its own, entirely outside of popular culture.

    Here’s the good news though. From those stats, science fiction books are being published at about the same rate they were 10 years ago, you just have to look a little harder to find them.

  5. Hmm. I’ve begun (again) to write science fiction. I do this every year. I write a story or two, submit it, get it rejected, assume I wasn’t meant to write and quit for a year. ;-)

    Anyway. In my recent research of publishers, ALL of the major scifi/fantasy publishers say the same thing: They don’t get enough hard sci-fi. The fantasy slush is always WAY larger. But the implication is that they WANT more sci-fi.

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