Over the last few months I’ve heard the phrase “collapse of the paper book market” thrown about by editors, writers and best of all financial analysts. The lower volume of sales (so much as they are tracked accurately) is undeniable. You can’t make up the collapse of one of the two largest chain retailers over night, certainly not without adding additional doorways. But, really, how much of the decline is due to either major series ending, authors dying, or simple stagnation causing readers to abandon series?
In the last few years we’ve seen Robert Jordan pass away. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series end.Twilight and it’s sequels have run their course as well. Just within science fiction and fantasy, of living authors who were or are major names, I can point out a half dozen I no longer read or recommend. A scan of these authors book reviews on places like Amazon, Goodreads, BN.com and others show’s I’m not alone in noticing the work they put out ten or fifteen years ago was markedly superior to the novels disgorged in the last half decade. For others, they simply don’t write at the pace they did a decade and a half ago. We can all name a major award winner or two who used to crank out book at twice the pace they do today.
When crunching the numbers on this type of impact it is important to remember not just that these authors sales may have or likely have slumped or ended, but that people rarely go to the bookstore for just one book. As a reader if I go in to pick up the steampunk by my favorite writer, I’m probably going to pick up an urban fantasy by someone else I read, and if there is a new space opera or milsf on the shelf I’m all over it.
Death is unavoidable (it even got Dick Clark after two or three centuries), stagnation particularly with an open ended series is almost equally so. So publishers need to learn to market genres and archetype characters over writers? Maybe not over but equally. If you take the current run of Marvel movies or the Game of Thrones series as a benchmark for Hollywood getting things right (for a change) they’ve gone with ability and marketing over pure name value. Peter Dinklage is almost certainly the best known name in Game of Thrones, and it is successful. There are no current A-listers in the Marvel universe. You can make a case for Denis Leary in the most recent Spiderman or maybe Robert Downey Junior as Iron Man but honestly that’s it.
Marketing works. Quality works. Know your market, satisfy your market, remind them of new stuff. That seems to be the formula that works.