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Doom! Gloom! Maybe!

The reason I say this is a new golden age of short fiction, especially for SF/F writers, is quite simple. There are more markets now than there have been since the brief boom years of the early 1950s. From the podcast markets to on-line markets like Jim Baen's Universe to the tried and true digest magazines, the SF short fiction reader has more places to go than ever before.

...

Writers and readers alike are terrified that their favorite short fiction venues will vanish. A few will. Most won't. Because people read more during tough economic times. Think of this: A hardcover book costs $20 to $25. An evening at the movies for a family of four costs $20-30 depending on what region of the country you're in, and that doesn't include snacks. The movie gives roughly two hours of pleasure (you hope) for your entertainment dollar.

The book gives days of pleasure, depending on how fast you read. And you can loan it to everyone in the family and all your friends as well. If you don't buy a hardcover, if you've cut back to only buying paperbacks, then you get the same kind of experience for $8, a vast savings over a movie.

People pay for cheap entertainment during tough times. The movie industry took off in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression. In this severe economic crisis, Hollywood has just announced the first billion dollar January on record. Amazon.com is the only company I know of to announce sales figures for the fourth quarter of 2008 that were higher than expected. Everyone else in retail announced losses. Libraries in the Greater Los Angeles area, according to the CBS Evening News, had 2 million more visitors in 2008 than they did in 2007 (from 16 million people to 18 million people, a figure projected to rise even more in 2009).

People will read and they will read more than they have before. Quotes throughout trade journals from industry professionals continually state that they plan no cutbacks in output in 2009, because they all know (and repeatedly state) that book sales go up in a recession.


The above comes from an article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and overall it's a bit silly, especially when she starts telling the recently unemployed that if they feel guilty or impotent, they should do volunteer work.

The real interesting comment is in her final line that I quoted, however, about sales going up in a recession. I rather wish she'd linked sources and quotes for it, because I'd be kind of interested in reading that; also, I've spent too much time teaching essays, and obviously too much time writing them, and now think that every statement needs a long collection of references to get it going. Also, her comparison between books and film is kind of one that is faintly ridiculous, and doesn't aid her statement. Film has a whole advertising industry of books, music, television, radio, and whatever else you got, to support it in a variety of ways. It also deliberately markets itself to the age group with the highest disposable income, and that age group of teenagers and early twenties people, are not reading as much as they watch flicks (and honestly, because I spend my time with them, they don't really want to read; for most of them, trashy flicks, video games, and drinking is more interesting than reading). Anyhow, I'm not focusing on that, since what I'm interested in is that book sales go up during a recession.

Part of my interest comes the fact that, from the people I know, and just how I viewed the world, that I expected things to go down. I'm reasonably sure that it will for some people, but I've had conversations in which people insisted that mid-list writers would fall away, that new writers would find their breaks harder to come by, that publishing houses weren't buying much, that they were scaling back staff... and while I thought that some of it was doom and gloom, some of it I just figured was part of the deal, and that yes, things would get cut back. I didn't think it would be doom, or gloom, or that it would be the end of publishing EVER, but at the same time, I didn't expect it to go up. So, like I said, I really do wish Rusch had linked the quotes for the recession part, but maybe I'll just see what I can track down.

(crossposted)

Comments

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catsparx
Mar. 8th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC)
"Writers and readers alike are terrified that their favorite short fiction venues will vanish"

This bit gave me pause... cos I have yet to be convinced that anyone other than short fiction writers gives a fuck about short fiction.
oldcharliebrown
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
It's a mistake to assume, from an author's perspective, that the only people who buy their work are other authors. I don't know why authors would ever assume that. The ten-to-twenty thousand people who buy year's best anthologies can't all be authors, after all :p
catsparx
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
oh yes they can!
benpeek
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
how about wanna-be authors ;p
bluetyson
Mar. 9th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
Nope, there are a few people at least without delusional aspirations.

:)
benpeek
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
i have met non-writers who like short fiction. they live in caves and don't have electricity.
shadowsandice
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
Not true for Australia at least. Books were expensive before they started kicking around the idea of recession, I don't see them suddenly getting any cheaper.
benpeek
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
yeah, i don't see any books getting cheaper, either.
bluetyson
Mar. 9th, 2009 08:15 am (UTC)
In fact the reverse, given the dollar slide back. Saw some garden variety paperbacks for 25.50 in Borders.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
yeah, it's difficult to buy things locally at the moment.
usmu
Mar. 9th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
The whole argument only works if people both go to movies and buy books, or switch from movies to books. I'm thinking the former could actually happen, but wonder how big that target demographic actually is.

The latter seems a bit unlikely though, as it indeed are two vastly different media. It quite possibly works if it's within the same medium. I switched from buying import magazines to books for that particular reason. As a reader you would like to keep reading, as a moviegoer you'd like to keep watching stuff. Marketing might not be that relevant.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
well, the larger problem with her argument--and perhaps the one i ought to have talked about--is that books are really a person at a time, and if you want to go out as a group, or a family, and experience something together, films do that a lot better than books.
usmu
Mar. 10th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
True. In that respect board games would have been a better comparison I suppose.
ninebelow
Mar. 9th, 2009 10:41 am (UTC)
Also, her comparison between books and film is kind of one that is faintly ridiculous

For values of "faintly" equal to "entirely".

Here is a link to a trade journal on the impact of the recession.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
thanks, man.
crankynick
Mar. 10th, 2009 09:04 am (UTC)
The idea of the "lipstick index" - sellers of small luxuries like lipstick and chocolate - doing well in a recession is pretty widespread. It comes from the Great Depression, which is where cosmetic companies like Elizabeth Arden got their big leg up - the theory being that people can't afford the big stuff, they'll treat themselves to a small luxury instead.

While it's arguable that books might fit into this category (and there's a bit of debate about whether the lipstick index is actually a real thing, also), I spent an afternoon a couple of months ago trying to chase down hard evidence of publisher performance in recessions, and couldn't find much to go on.
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