MIND MELD: How will Science Fiction Weather the Recession?
It’s official, the U.S. economy is in a recession and may be heading for a depression. This means that the average consumer of SF will have to make some tough choices on how and where to spend their money. With people spending less the science fiction publishing industry could be hit hard.
I think the hardcover market will shrink a bit, and people will be more judicious in what they buy in hardcover, and thus publishers will also watch what’s done in hardcover, but it’s worth remembering that a mass market is $7.99, and it can be read numerous times, unlike a $12 movie or $20 DVD.
In terms of the overall market, people read sf/f at least partially for a sense of escapism, for something different than their everyday world, and that need for escapism is even stronger during a difficult market. Our sales stayed steady after 9/11, and I expect the reading public will still want tales of adventure and a way to not think about the recession, etc.
Urban fantasy, in particular, should remain extremely popular, since it presents a world very like our own, but one that’s heightened, filled with magic and possibilities, etc.
The harder challenge will be with stores cutting their buys, which is already happening. If that continues, it will be harder to buy smaller books, or ones with a more specialized audience. But in some ways new authors have an advantage, as they don’t have a sales track that can hinder them.
I have no idea. If book sales drop then of course it will be harder to break into the markets and I expect struggling authors without high sales figures might be in for some unpleasant turns. It depends if the publishers decide to go with bean counters and shrinkfit their lists to the till receipts or if they keep a wider view. The more the variety drops out of the market the worse it will be for everyone concerned so we’ll just have to hope that large selling writers and shows make enough money to keep mid-lists afloat. On the other hand, when times are tough escapism is always profitable…
In my experience, and from industry mutterings over the years, the SF and Fantasy genre tends to be immune to economic situations. If the book trade announces sales are down, it’s most likely to be the titles such as celebrity biographies, or quirky humour titles – the shallow, mass market end of things that suffer, because those aren’t usually read by a dedicated readership.
People will still seek to escape in genre books. Should there not be much money in pockets, well… a book lasts a lot longer than other forms of entertainment, and perhaps it will bring new readers in, if more people wish to spend nights at home. I’m merely speculating at the psychology – but as far as I’m aware, the genre hasn’t often suffered from recessions. And this is SFF fandom – this is people’s passion, and fans will invest as much time and energy into it as always. I’m confident that this is nothing to worry about – even as a new author breaking into the mass market field next year.
The convention wisdom has always held that book sales remain steady during economic downturns. Books are a small ticket item that provides hours, days, even weeks of enjoyment, and so, when the economy forces people to forgo the big expenses (vacations, vehicles, luxury items, that flat screen TV), they reward themselves with the small things. This has traditionally been the case, but what we didn’t know is how books would be effected by the Internet age. Never before has so much free content been available online, an even cheaper alternative to big expenditures. But I suspected going in that alot of this online content still drives purchases to small ticket items. Looking in Publishers Weekly, it seems that book sales were down in September but up in October, and a recent survey of bookstores they conducted in the November 3rd issue entitled “Hunkering Down: Booksellers Prepare for a Challenging Season“, saw 4 of the 9 stores queried reporting that sales were up. A fifth reported sales down in September but up in October. A sixth disqualified themselves as being tied to football season and thus always down at this time, while I seventh saw their biggest losses in text books. So it seems that sales of entertainment titles are holding steady. For our part, sales at Pyr have been especially strong for the last few months, and indeed, for most of the year. Meanwhile, I hear reports from major retailers that nonfiction categories are down, but that science fiction, fantasy and mystery books are doing fine. All of this bears out the conventional wisdom and offers hope for the recession, even if it does drag through the first quarter of 2009. I’m glad that we made the decision to get into mass market last year, as it’s certainly the perfect time to be introducing lower priced Pyr books, but that fortuitous decision was in play long before we knew we were in a recession. Likewise, I’m having to make decisions now about books you won’t see on shelves until late 2009 or 2010, so I’m not really selecting works with the recession in mind. (God forbid we should still be in it then!). So I don’t see how it’s going to be any harder for a new author to break in than it ever is. The best thing a publisher can do is to put out the highest quality reading experience they possibly can – but we’d be doing that anyway! The best thing a prospective author can do is be brilliant and shine!
[Lou also has related thoughts on the Pyr Blog here.]
How has the recession affected your book buying habits? Are you making more use of libraries or used book stores? Let us know!
Filed under: Mind Meld
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