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The Media

Why Doesn't Sci-Fi Hit the Bestseller Lists? 414

Pomeranian writes "Sci fi readers often deplore book bestseller lists -- because review editors actively ignore many sci-fi sales, since they don't consider that stuff "popular", even though sci-fi titles often sell in far greater numbers than "serious" highbrow lit. But this all might change soon, with the launch of Bookscan: New technology that tracks actual sales at the cash register with greater precision than ever before. When similar technology launched in the music industry ten years ago, it proved the popularity of "new country" and hip-hop overnight. This story in the Washington Post wonders: Will Bookscan do the same thing to sci-fi? NOTE: this is a *shameless* self-aggrandizing plug, because I wrote the Washington Post story! But I figured it'd be of particular interest to Slashdot readers"
CD: While I'd love to see lists that are more reflective of reality, I don't think that a pure unadulterated list is in the interest of the reading public. When I worked at Waldenbooks many moons ago, we would commonly receive copies of one book, Dianetics, from the publisher, with our (And our competitors) sales stickers already on them. While this was an extreme case, it does serve as a cautionary tale about the lengths some will go to manipulate the numbers.
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Why Doesn't Sci-Fi Hit the Bestseller Lists?

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  • Not New... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Myuu ( 529245 ) <myuu@pojo.com> on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:03PM (#3487519) Homepage
    Shameless plugs on /., no way...when did this start?

    =P
  • by Anonynnous Coward ( 557984 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:05PM (#3487528)
    My guess would be Harlan Ellison.
  • by bravehamster ( 44836 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:06PM (#3487533) Homepage Journal
    Will this new technology automatically exclude these items, like all the bestsellers list today do? Cuz I don't want to have to hear the preacher down at church bragging about "The lords been topping the charts for 36 weeks now!"

    • That makes me wonder: we're often told about how the Bible is the best selling book of all time, but would it really top the charts of books sold at Waldenbooks, Barnes and Noble, and other retail outlets? My wondering is that a huge number of Bibles are not bought through retail venues, but through groups like Christian Book Distributors [christianbook.com] that mass produce Bibles and then are placed en masse into Churches, hotels, given for free on street corners and missions, et cetera.

      It might be interesting to see how the Bible holds up (or doesn't hold up) against sci-fi and other titles among American retail bookstores.

    • Bible counting? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by slugfro ( 533652 )
      When purchasing a Bible there are tons of options (Adult study, Teen bible, children's picture bible, etc...) as well as different translations (KJ, NKJ, NIV, NL, AS, etc...). Each of these Bibles (probably hundreds) has a different ISBN. So all of these would probably be counted individually under this new system. I think it is likely that the current sales numbers for "The Bible" are probably a combination of all Bible sales regardless of ISBN, which is why it is always a best seller. It will be interesting to see if the new tracking changes the results. Go buy your bible today!
    • by Seanasy ( 21730 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @08:22PM (#3488106)

      If they adjust downward for theft the Bible won't make it.

      When I was a lowly bookseller at a big national chain, *cough* Borders *cough*, one of the most heavily shop-lifted sections of the store was the christian Bible section.

      Sweet, sweet irony...

      • I guess that shouldn't surprise me. Early in my OfficeMax career, I found a $2 bible trivia program that someone stole the contents out of. My comment at the time: "I guess they aren't going to do very well."
    • Great idea, huh? Just go ahead and have a system track the books you purchase with your credit card and voila! an enormous database that profiles people based on their reading habits.
      Think this sounds far fetched? Don't be so naive. Remember, libraries are already required to handover records to the Federal Gov't for matter dealing with "national security", what makes you think certain books won't be flagged.

      wars not make one great

      • I was wondering about this myself, but the impression I got was that most courts have actually sided against the government and for the privacy and confidentiality of citizens and public libraries. Even Kenneth Starr got into trouble for trying to force a bookstore to hand over records of sale that might have shown that Monica Lewinsky bought a book that she later gave as a gift to Clinton. Lewinsky later gave the records over anyway, though.

        But the Colorado Supreme court just unanimously overturned a lower court's decision forcing Tattered Cover to turn over records for an investigation by a Denver-area drug task force. And the protections for public libraries are even stronger than the ones enjoyed by bookstores.

  • by Myshkin ( 34701 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:06PM (#3487534)
    If you get an accurate count of books sold, I'm guessing that the only thing you're going to see on the best-selling list is romance novels
    • by sam_handelman ( 519767 ) <skh2003&columbia,edu> on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:17PM (#3487603) Homepage Journal
      In Hardcover?

      Mind you, I've never bought a harlequin novel, but I always assumed they went straight to paperback.

      Now, most Sci Fi is sold in paperback, as well, but my belief is that it'll make more of an impact on the hardcover sales than romance novels, and I assume that these best seller lists will still be hardcover only.

      Incidentally, I'm not hugely pleased by the emergence of the new, better marketing of music. I worry that accurate figures will drive the publishing industry to be (more) driven by marketing research. Does this mean that I think that culture-distributors should not have access to the information they need to make smart sales decisions? Well, they will only use that knowledge to do evil, so yes.

      Of course, Garth Brooks contaminates the radio, and N'Sync has taken away my MTV. No-one forces you to read tripe, but if this sales data causes someone to decide that C-SPAN's book-TV is a commercially valuable resource... well, that'd be too bad.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @11:19PM (#3488712)
        N'Sync has taken away my MTV

        If you haven't noticed yet, MTV doesn't drift with the generations. You grew up with MTV and loved, so did your 5 years younger brother and your 10 years younger sister. MTV always targets the same age group, so yeah, even if your taste in music doesn't change, MTV will start sucking after a while. It's supposed to. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

    • The large chain bookstores already track author popularity very closely and, if your last book didn't do well, your next book may not get the opportunity to do well. This discourages authors from branching out or trying something new. Several authors have found themselves forced to adopt new pen names to get around these problems.

      I fear that this proposed system is only going to make things worse, not better. Yes, I would like to see SF treated with a little respect, but I'd also like to see authors free to experiment and to try something new and off the beaten track. I'm afraid that this will kill off what little market remains for interesting and innovative writers, and leave us with nothing but "popular" cookie-cutter pablum.

      I think if you browse around on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America [sfwa.org] web pages, you may find some articles that address these concerns in greater detail.

      • by jonbrewer ( 11894 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:45PM (#3487728) Homepage
        "
        The large chain bookstores already track author popularity very closely and, if your last book didn't do well, your next book may not get the opportunity to do well."
        I know from experience [barnesandnoble.com] that Barnes and Noble will take books from local authors and feature them prominently in their stores, irregardless of popularity or past sales of the author. The managers of such chain bookstores are not entirely dictated to from above, so I don't believe your blanket statement to be true.
  • Please explain (Score:2, Interesting)

    by novastyli ( 450003 )

    When I worked at Waldenbooks many moons ago, we would commonly receive copies of one book, Dianetics, from the publisher, with our (And our competitors) sales stickers already on them.

    What does this mean? Having never worked at a bookstore, I don't know what it means for a book to come with sales stickers on....
    • it probably means that the distributor bought the book to pump numbers and then sent that vopy out in the next shipment to stores.

    • by dr_eaerth ( 149359 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:17PM (#3487602)
      What does this mean? Having never worked at a bookstore, I don't know what it means for a book to come with sales stickers on....

      The book was Dianetics, which is the big Scientologist book. The reason they show up at bookstores with price stickers already on them is because of the Scientologists' bestseller plan:

      1) Everyone goes out and buys Dianetics.
      2) Give the copies of Dianetics to the "church."
      3) The church ships the books back out to retail stores.

      The end product is that Dianetics goes sky-high in the bestseller lists, without costing the church typical manufacturing costs. And bookstores get copies of the book already with sales stickers on.
      • The $cientologists aren't the only ones who did this sort of thing.

        The way the New York Times bestseller list works (or at least used to work, not sure what they do now), is they get the sales figures from a few stores. Since they are (or used to be) the same stores all the time, intrepid authors/publishers used to go out and buy as many copies from those few stores that they could find. Instant bestseller list, which becomes self-perpetuating as people buy it because it was on the list.

        IIRC the books usually were those non-fiction business fad books (How to Drive Your Company to Just Unbelievable Success by Shouting Slogans at your Salesforce kinds of things).
  • I would hate for this to lead the local stores of national chains to change what they carry based on what people in my area were more "likely" to purchase. Just like targetted advertising, their squeezing dollars leads to less local choice.

    I know that I can look online and make decisions on what I might like, but the seredipity of finding something in the stacks is one of my greatest thrills (yes, my life *is* that boring...)

  • Review Editors (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wraithgar ( 317805 )
    I had always thought that, despite their popularity, Sci-Fi books never ranked high on Review Editors' radar because of their "Pulp" popularity.
    There's a stigma that goes w/ Sci-Fi books I think. Editors assume that they're a niche market, and reviews would be wasted because fans (in their opinion) are going to either buy Sci-Fi or not, regardless of their reviews.

    This is probably the same reason they avoid reviewing Danielle Steele and other "romance novel" type books. I mean does anyone believe that THOSE aren't still selling bajillions of copies yearly?
  • I rarely read any sci-fi anymore, most of my book reading is O'Reillys animal books. I just asked around the office, seems to be the norm. A few people mentioned Tom Clancey..

    -
    Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning. - Rich Cook
    • Then why do we get all those articles on slashdot insisting that engineers/programmers/system administrators are just SO well-rounded and so amazingly literate, and the liberal arts guys don't know half as much about science as they do about literature?
  • by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) <.jhummel. .at. .johnhummel.net.> on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:12PM (#3487573) Homepage
    It's good to be popular, or for people to suddenly discover you. It gets you more money, more opportunities, and with greater exposure comes greater influence. Look at Open Source and GNU/Linux - as it's popularity has risen, business have been forced to compete, support, and develop for the system. Like the article mentions with Country Music, sometimes there's an entire market waiting to be tappd.

    At the same time, there's the dark side. As publishers notice "dang - there's lots of money to be made with science fiction", you can expect a flurry of studies, marketing strategies - imagine the N'Sync of sci-fi, as one evil example. It means the corner of the universe that used to be yours - or in the case of groups, ours, is now open to the world - with all the good and bad it brings.

    So while I'm hoping this promotes more interest in sci-fi books and literature, and perhaps even more funding/greater recognition for those artists, I'm also worried about what the sudden press of "marketing studies" will do, or the effects of making sci-fi "mainstream" to try and get a greater public hooked.

    Of course, I could be wrong.
    • *Cough*HarryPotter*Cough*
      • by ckd ( 72611 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @07:13PM (#3487831) Homepage
        *Cough*HarryPotter*Cough*

        The Harry Potter books are a good example of the NYT's biases, in fact. You see, Rowling was taking up "too many slots" on the NYT Best-Sellers list, so they suddenly decided that they really needed a separate list for childrens' books (apparently to keep fantasy cooties away from the "good stuff").

        This despite the fact that the Harry Potter books sell to adults as well as children.

    • The N'Sync of Science Fiction are the big studio movies being churned out; big on special effects but very small on thought. Like any serious fictional medium, the best work is not going to make the bestseller list. The endless Star Trek and Star Wars related books will remain at the top of the Science Fiction bestseller list. People that are interested in the good stuff will continue to look at the Nebula/Hugo lists, as well as other sources that are not worth the time of the media giants. This is a reflection of our society. If a few percent of people read serious science fiction, that is still a lot of people. A great many science fiction authors are able to make a living. Getting onto some generic list isn't really going to have much effect on this.
      • The N'Sync of Science Fiction are the big studio movies being churned out; big on special effects but very small on thought.

        I dunno, people are always harping on sci fi movies not making people think as much as sci fi books do--but as a fan of (good) sci fi books, I don't think I'm really interested in seeing great new ideas of science discussed on the big screen. What scientific thought could be presented to me on screen that could not be presented more efficiently and with more depth in a book? When I watch sci fi movies, I'm watching for basically the same reason that I watch other movies--for drama and for visuals. I don't just want to see bold new ideas--I want to see how humans as represented by actors react to new bold new ideas.

    • It's good to be popular, or for people to suddenly discover you. It gets you more money, more opportunities, and with greater exposure comes greater influence. Look at Open Source and GNU/Linux - as it's popularity has risen, business have been forced to compete, support, and develop for the system. Like the article mentions with Country Music, sometimes there's an entire market waiting to be tappd.

      More importantly some authors will actually stop writing because the work involved just isn't worth it. Barry Hughart who writes excellent historical fantasies supposedly stopped writing because his books just weren't doing well enough (despite being very well-received by sf critics).
    • As publishers notice "dang - there's lots of money to be made with science fiction", you can expect a flurry of studies, marketing strategies - imagine the N'Sync of sci-fi, as one evil example.....I'm also worried about what the sudden press of "marketing studies" will do, or the effects of making sci-fi "mainstream" to try and get a greater public hooked.

      Oh, you mean like Star Wars Episode 1?

  • The current structure has been set up so that publishers can use the "sales figures" to their advantage. They will still manipulate the system to have their way in the end.

    At any rate, when Oprah starts talking about Jean Luc's latest adventure novel then we can ponder how things will change...

  • by Xtifr ( 1323 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:14PM (#3487584) Homepage
    The large chain bookstores already track author popularity very closely and, if your last book didn't do well, your next book may not get the opportunity to do well. This discourages authors from branching out or trying something new. Several authors have found themselves forced to adopt new pen names to get around these problems.

    I fear that this proposed system is only going to make things worse, not better. Yes, I would like to see SF treated with a little respect, but I'd also like to see authors free to experiment and to try something new and off the beaten track. I'm afraid that this will kill off what little market remains for interesting and innovative writers, and leave us with nothing but "popular" cookie-cutter pablum.

    I think if you browse around on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America [sfwa.org] web pages, you may find some articles that address these concerns in greater detail.
  • by fritter ( 27792 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:14PM (#3487586)
    At last, an empirical method to prove what the best books are! After all, everyone knows that Titanic is, scientifically, the best movie ever made. Finally, my Danielle Steele novels and R.L. Stine paperbacks will get the in-depth, intellectual criticism they've been *begging* for!
    • Well, I think that people that are into books rarely reads a book based only on the back of the cover. Sure, a trailer for a movie that costs 7$ (in Canada anyway) and takes two hours (often less) of your time can convince you to go see a movie. But readers make more informed choice about a book. That's probably why I almost never hear someone complain about a book they read was bad, but I always heard people saying how bad a particular movie is. After all, a book can take many more hours to read than a movie to be watched, and cost generally more. I don't really mind wasting 2 hours for a movie, but 5 hours or more for a book, that's a pretty long time wasted if the book is bad.

      Since (based on my own observation) people who read books make more thoughtfull choices when buying a book, I think that these kind of Bestsellers list is showing not only is popular, but also what is also decent/good.
    • Not Really (Score:4, Interesting)

      by samael ( 12612 ) <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @04:01AM (#3489366) Homepage
      Adjusted for Inflation, Gone with the Wind is still #1. Titanic is #7.

      http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted/
  • by llywrch ( 9023 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:17PM (#3487604) Homepage Journal
    Years ago, the PTB reformed the process that music sales were recorded & how albums would thereby be certified as ``Gold" or ``Platinum."

    One week, the best-selling record was some forgettable group created by the music industry & heavily hyped on MTV. (ISTR it was a group called ``Poison.") The next week . . . Nirvana was king. And Seattle suffered for it.

    Just remembering a bit of history.

    Geoff

    • > Years ago, the PTB reformed the process that music sales were recorded & how albums would thereby be certified as ``Gold" or ``Platinum."

      > One week, the best-selling record was some forgettable group created by the music industry & heavily hyped on MTV. ...

      I don't know how it's done now, but back in the '60s and '70s LPs went gold or platinum on the basis of the sticker price x the number the record company shipped to the distributers. So record companies got in the habit of doing the calculation and shipping enough to ensure the record went gold the first week it was out (whether anyone actually bought it or not), hoping that the announcement that it was a gold record would drive enough sales to cover the expense of operating that way.

  • by Edmund Blackadder ( 559735 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:19PM (#3487615)
    Ok maybe sci fi will become "hot" but would that make sci fi better - probably not.

    Sci fi has been hot in movies for a long time and what do we have to show for it - several big budget movies that are complete crap (men in black independance day, that arnold thing, phantom menace etc.) with one medium budget movie that is not that bad (the matrix).

    And even though sci fi movies were hot Douglas Adams did not live to see a Hitchikers movie.

    Good sci fi gets written not because its on bestsellers lists but because people that write it love doing it.
  • whew! (Score:2, Funny)


    It's about time. I hated having to call my handler every time i bought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.
  • by Dr_LHA ( 30754 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:24PM (#3487636) Homepage
    Back in the early nineties I used to work in a now non-existant bookstore, that had the task of compiling the list of bestsellers for the local newspaper. The bestseller list was compiled in order using the following rules:

    1. The number of copies we had of the book in stock (not the number sold). This true for fiction only - our best selling books were always stuff like "Introductory Accounting Book 1" - which we never bothered listing. Sci-fi was not exempt - we had a hardcore Scifi customer base - although we weren't a genre bookstore.

    2. If the book was selling poorly it was placed higher in the list to try to boost sales!

    3. Some random book that the manageress liked would be in the top ten regardless of sales (in many cases we didn't have any copies of it - embarrassing).

    At least these where the rules as far as I could figure them! Scientific huh?
  • 'hot' or science fiction for general audiences sounds like an excelent idea. We can have new successes in the field of science fiction just as the music industry has had such great artists as Nsync and Backstreet Boys

  • Sales don't mean everything, what would be more accurate about popularity would be if they could include sharing, giveaways, and non-primary store purchases (think swap meet, thrift store). Taken in the software context, this sort of metric is like saying apache sucks because nobody buys it from a store.

    That said, I encourage you all to read the Hyperion set by Dan Simmons (read ALL of them, the best reading is in the last book of the series)

    Travis
    • Re:Sales? (Score:2, Interesting)

      I second that, the Hyperion Cantos is awesome, my favorite series of all the Sci Fi I've read (which is a lot), it's too bad all Mr. Simmons writes anymore is thrillers and horror.
  • NOTE: this is a *shameless* self-aggrandizing plug, because I wrote the Washington Post story! But I figured it'd be of particular interest to Slashdot readers"

    So, just because I read slashdot and have a passing interest in things geeky, I must care about SF? Criminitly, I've been stereotyped.

    You wouldn't dare assume something equivlent about a Cosmo reader, not and not get your proverbial nuts handed to you.

  • The CoS has been known for having members buy books just to get them on the NYT best seller list, I can certainly see them trying to do in this list as well.
    Any way to detect fraud or tampering?
  • Paperbacks? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Crispy Critters ( 226798 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:32PM (#3487675)
    Are we all missing the real point here?

    Look at your bookshelves (I'll wait). Welcome back. How many of your books are paperbacks, and how many are hardbacks? I would guess 90% paperbacks, but the main bestseller lists track sales of new hardcover books.

    Thinking at the keyboard here, I would say most hardbacks are bought as gifts. Tracking paperbacks would tell you what people are buying for themselves to read.

    The trouble with this is that paperback buying is probably more spread out over time. Did, say, 2001: a Space Odyssey make the best-seller lists? I don't know. But how many copies did it sell in paperback across the decades?

    Hence, I conclude that best-seller lists are marketing hoopla, and we should ignore them.

    • I have found that book I partcullarly like I buy in HB for my shelf, and PB as a lender.
    • Re:Paperbacks? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by greydmiyu ( 10462 )
      Dare we even mention the proliferation of used books being sold? Will those get tracked? Do used records get tracked? I'd say that about 1:20th of my book collection are from the used books store. I generally take chances with new authors that way.
  • by happyclam ( 564118 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:33PM (#3487679)

    I, for one, hope that the major newspapers publish both lists.

    The benefit of consuming WSJ, NYT, the Post, or any of a host of others is their editorial expertise. Each newspaper has a brand they maintain. Science Fiction is simply not that compatible with their brands. If you want to know about science fiction, do you go to WSJ? Huh, didn't think so. Consumers expect the editorial bent of the paper to affect their content. (Perhaps the moniker "best seller list" is exceptional because it implies statistical rather than anecdotal analysis.)

    The new format will be interesting from a sociological perspective. It will provide all kinds of demographic information. Unfortunately, I'm sure the information will be very expensive, so we will probably not benefit beyond the top 10 lists, which will be not all that interesting.

    As to why Sci Fi and Fantasy are not taken seriously by the heavy hitters: those categories are, today, formula fiction as much as any thriller or romance is. Go to the "Reference" section of your bookstore. How many "How to Write Science Fiction" books are there? Now, how many "How to Write a Really Good Story" books are there? Sci Fi and Fantasy provide easy gimmicks to let writers off the hook, so the best writing no longer tends to be in them.

    A similar thing has happened in TV. Look at any show that starts off really interesting. After a few episodes, people start having exrtraordinary things happening to them: they get shot, things blow up, they get amnesia (and it's prime time, not just daytime TV). That's because it's hard to write really good, creative fiction without using these easy devices. And once the devices were well established, the formula became well known, and its the exceptional writer that now really creates something new in any of these formula categories.

  • If the method worked so well in the music industry, how come we have so much garbage coming out in the music industry to this day? For every decent band in the spotlight, I can name 50 that should be there and 200 that shouldn't....and that includes hip hop and "new country" (alt-country?).

    I think you will see the same lopsided results in books. The literature industry controls (to a slightly lesser degree than the music industry) what is made available to the public, and far more importantly, what is publicized to the public. That which does not get publicity, will not succeed on a mainstream level. If a book (no matter how good it is) is not considered mainstream material (read: risk-averse vanilla) then it will not hit the bestsellers list. Some of the better music/books out there will never be accepted by the mainstream, but achieve decent sales through the phenomenon known as 'cult'. 'Cult' tends to not be significant enough to be blockbuster (as the music industry has shown).
    • The problem is that most publications such as the NYT Review are not covering really good stories, either; they're concerned with whether you've gone to a University course teaching dummies how to write the genre of modern literary fiction. Which is a genre, and is mostly crap. Just like the other genres the same reviewers look snidely upon.
  • But I honestly don't mean it to be...

    I must say though that most Sci-Fi, be it books, movies or TV, really REALLY sucks.

    For every Brave New World or Snowcrash there's 100s if not 1000s of published shitwork. I think the legitimate Sci-Fi is lost in the noise of all the shit. If the Sci-Fi industry wants to lift itself from the industry ghetto they need to start being a lot more selective in what they publish, IMO.

  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:41PM (#3487712) Homepage Journal
    Tools like Bookscan could hurt the variety of SF that gets published and distributed.

    A sharp marketing department could notice that SF with such-and-such a cover and such-and-such a description sells a solid 5% better than anything else.

    A few weeks later, editors and slushpile readers get standing orders to only vet manuscripts that fit a certain profile.

    The next year, the books in your local bookstore's SF&F section fall into maybe three categories. Cover artists who want to continue eating ape a certain sterotyped style.

    But, dang, SF books start hitting the Bestseller Lists, so it would all be worthwhile.

    Stefan

    • The publishers are the ones that produce and sell the books, who get returns (or the ripped off covers of them), who get the orders for replacement copies, etc. They have all this information, though probably filtered somewhat through distributors. The bookstores already have this as well, down to the per-store level. The only people who really haven't had this are the press and members of the general public.
  • The big problems with getting science fiction onto bestseller lists, except for top names like Crichton, is that publishers don't print enough to actually make a dent on the lists. According to Robert J. Sawyer [sfwriter.com], his initial harcover runs are still only a few thousand for North America (this includes Canada as well), while best sellers usually sell this many just in the first week at least just in the USA. Sawyer's won awards in four countries and is constantly active in science fiction with clinics and book tours, as well as being a former president of the SFWA [sfwa.org], but because he's not only Canadian, but a science fiction author, he doesn't get the sales of anything that, say, Grisham or King would get.

    And until there's a demonstration that books such as his are marketable in the same lists as King or Grisham books, they won't be printed in the numbers needed to get on those lists.
    • All sf writers have this problem, with the possible exception of the more popular extruded fantasy series authors.

      Robert Sawyer (an excellent author, btw) actually is better off than a lot of American authors; the average US bookstore will most likely have at least one or two of his books (at least in softcover), which can't be said of all sf authors.
  • by thumbtack ( 445103 ) <thumbtack.juno@com> on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @06:59PM (#3487781)
    The Music version of this is called Soundscan. In the music industry it's often referred to as "SoundScam", because of the abuses of the system, and the ease in which it can be manipulated to reflect what the label wants it to do. All you need is an indie promoter, a few thousand copies, and one unscruplous store owner or employee.
  • by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @07:00PM (#3487786) Homepage
    All their purchases are made electronically so that has to be the most accurate tracking of books sold. Ok, obviously amazon.com only tracks the books they sell which is slightly different than the article which talks about all book sales. But amazon.com has enough customers to make an accurate random sampling of the entire set of customers who buy books.
  • they are. really.

    the only few _good_ NEW books that have come out in a decade or so without being sleepers were the zahn's star wars trilogy. sure there has been few almost good books(as fast selling and wide spread goes), gibson & such. but not anything on par with the zahn's.

    and i still can't have conversations with most book reading people about zahns trilogy. whereas, take any asimov book, and some other who digs scifi books(!), he's sure to have read them(at least a few)..
    but can i assume he has read the last years 'top selling 'scifi' book'? no, because i haven't either.

    actually, imho, you shouldn't categorize books by the surrounds the story is told in, but by the STORY, asimov for example has love drama, exploration and detective stories.. all that would work equally well in different surroundings. you could put the empire to be roman empire & etc, without actually losing one inch. of course it would be raping the whole idea tho.. you could put 1984 or fahrenheit 181(?) to whatever time perioid with minor changes and still have the message told.

    it doesn't really matter if the story is told in ancient egypt or starship leaping in the stars, or in both. techinical gizmos are easy for writers to explain in detail, making the reader understand a persons character is much more difficult.

    i don't count humour books to be anything else than humour(adams, harry harrison), no matter how great and funny they are(adams&harry harrison again).
  • In Japan (Score:2, Troll)

    by Apreche ( 239272 )
    I posted this late, so I probably wont get modded up, because people who post early are the only ones who get modded up. But I like to always point out things Japan does right, and has been doing right, that the US has yet to figure out.

    I Japan if you buy a book, CD, dvd, anything it has a small paper or cardboard reciept on it. At the point of sale the little slip is tossed into a box. At the end of the day they get a perfectly accurate count of what was sold very easily. If you purchase a cd from somewhere like www.cdjapan.co.jp or buy some imported manga you will probably get this little "recipt" because the people who sold it to you do not count them. It's pretty cool, since they been doing this for a long time.
  • In the Chicago area, I know of precisely one: The Stars Our Destination. Comments at various times have given me the impression that there are probably less than 10 in the country - possibly less than half that.

    In addition, Stars moved a couple of years ago to a better location, but has largely found that there's no longer enough demand for a specialty store to make having a storefront a truly viable proposition.

    So, what stores are they going to be drawing these new listings from?

  • by IvyMike ( 178408 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @07:36PM (#3487936)

    I see a few people complaining that there's not enough good science fiction out now; I beg to differ. Off the top of my head, Egan, Vinge, and Bear have all written some great books in the past few years; and have you ever read "Ribofunk" by di Filippo?

    For years I've been using the THE INTERNET TOP 100 SF/FANTASY LIST [geocities.com] as my reference as to what science fiction I should be reading. It's not as flighty as a "current bestsellers" list is, but new books do work onto the list in due time. And most of the books on the list really do deserve to be there. Over the past five years, I've managed to read probably about half of the books on the list, and have an idea about most of the others. No small task, because the list does change over time. (Although looking at it now, I see a few names I don't recognize, which means it's time to start doing more reading).

    • Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker" ? Probably the best SF book I have ever read. Most of the ones high on the list that I have read I think were good, some very good and even excellent. But Star Maker is well .. in a league of its own. I can only presume its not on the list because no one knows it exists.

      Just take a look at the reviews on Amazon [amazon.com].

  • SF doesn't make bestseller lists for the same reason SF/Fantasy doesn't win Oscars and Blockbuster *HAS* *NO* science fiction section (it's distributed through the other sections - mostly 'action'.) Face it, despite the 'geek chic' thing we keep hearing about on TechTV, we're still looked upon with disdain by those who can't do math.

    Check this out. [boxofficemojo.com]

    Now, by my count, of the top 25 grossing US pictures of all time:

    2 comedy...

    3 drama...

    5 cartoon/family...

    SIXTEEN -- SIX-FSCKing-TEEN fit in the SF/Fantasy category.(though Twister might count as a comedy...)
    Of course, you can divy 'em up however you want, but my point here should be crystal clear. I'm *NOT* gonna say this again.

    BTW, by my count - for those that are interested...

    3 movies rated R

    4 movies rated PG13

    THIRTEEN movies rated PG

    2 movies rated G
    Now, explain to me why Hollywood keeps doping films with gratuitous sex, violence & language that does nothing to advance the story. My guess is that they're more interested in impressing their party-friends and pushing a social agenda than making decent films. I believe Walt Disney used to say he made family films because "Why sell two tickets when you can sell four?" Hollywood - sheesh. What a bunch of morons.

    (Sorry to rant so far OT, but my car ran out of gas on the way to the store tonight, and BP DOESN'T HAVE GAS CANS for loan, rent or buy; so I had to walk to Sheetz Fuel Mart in the rain and buy one. By the time I finally got to the store, it had just closed. What a night -- I'm such an idiot!)

  • by geekotourist ( 80163 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @12:35AM (#3488947) Journal
    A bit of a long-time peeve of mine is ignorance during reviews. How many times have you seen a review of an item (book, movie) with obvious SF elements compared to "Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Ray Bradbury"? Not because it has much resemblance to any one of these, but because those were the only SFish authors the reviewer was exposed to in high school.

    It is a proud and defiant ignorance allowed because the audience doesn't know better- they don't know of the SF books beyond the "Sword of Han Solo" serials on the NYTimes lists. The same reviewers would never review a modern comedy as "the tradition of Mark Twain and Charlie Chaplin" or a mystery as "part of the long history from Poe to Doyle." i.e. if it is another genre they'll have at least a basic knowledge of it: for example, that westerns went from simple ("Indians bad") to complex, and that other countries (Japan, Italy) are part of cowboy movie history. They'll know that Elvis isn't modern rock and Martha Graham isn't cutting edge dance. But with SF they'll use 40 year old movies as their example (in turn based on 60 year old stories/ideas, as SF movies tend to be far behind the literature) without embarrassment.

    So what- let them be ignorant, some could say. But when reviewers don't know about or ignore modern SF, it hurts more than some thin-skinned fandom:

    • It lets the modern non-SF author get away with slumming or borrowing. Authors need (and the good ones want) to be held to a higher standard.
    • It prevents the SF authors from getting credit as the people who originated or built up a concept.
    • It keeps the reader from finding out about the history and authors who've done a concept. The reader doesn't get a "if you like Z, you might also like X and Y, who started it..."
    • It lets the reviewers get away with sloppy work.

    So I'll be happy to see (what I assume are at least good sellers) books like Dozois' Best SF Stories of the Year and more showing up. Reviewers will have to first account for the writers like Ian McDonald [lysator.liu.se], the rapidly approaching (and hope he pulls it off) Singularity Charlie Stross [antipope.org], and just intensely good Greg Egan [netspace.net.au], before they blow off SF as spaceship-westerns.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay

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