Why does everyone love to over-interpret everything? I suppose writers aim to make a splash. After all a story saying “a little bit of something I can’t quite identify may possibly be beginning to happen” doesn’t really command the headlines. Here’s The New York Times warning us that the end of the novel is nigh yet again, though they do sensibly take refuge behind a question mark. The Digital Reader calls them out.

Of course we can say that sales of fiction are declining. We can say sales of fiction are rising. We can say whatever we want, but it doesn’t have to mean anything. We are unable to make pronouncements of any value about global book sales of any category since we simply don’t have any comprehensive data about books sales. Members of the commentariat love to dis traditional publishing people for their alleged inability to see the beam in their eye which is the self publishing industry. But here’s that organ of traditional publishing, Publishers Weekly, pointing out that the appearance of fiction’s losing its appeal is only there if you close your eyes to independent publishing. Hey guys we all know this, so lay off us please.

We do tend to talk about the AAP’s sales numbers as if they had a general application, which of course they do, but their general application is only to the world of traditional book publishing. People who work in this business often fail to consider that this does not represent the entire universe: to us it is of vital and fascinating interest. Sales data for self-published books are, almost by definition, not available. So the AAP numbers say (and we all know this) nothing about books sales in general. That we forget to say this every time we talk about sales is perhaps understandable because for so many years we didn’t have any meaningful self-publishing business to take into consideration. Not an excuse; just a reason for a failure to think things through.

Now the fact that traditional publishers are selling less fiction than in the past is a perfectly reasonable trend to study, especially if you are a traditional publisher of fiction. But quit going beyond the facts to speculate whether this means humans are evolving to a non-story-loving state, becoming capable of ever shorter and shorter attention spans, or moving into a non-fiction-buying evolutionary stage. There’s no data to confirm or deny such fantasies. Does such navel gazing stuff really help sell the publications in which it appears? I’d have thought everyone was pretty bored with the same old story about the death of the book, a story which we’ve been hearing ever since the world began (well, maybe just since the book began).

  • A. We don’t know whether less fiction is being sold
  • B. Even if it were, we’ve no evidence of what the significance of that might be
  • C. We can perhaps say that lower prices will tend to capture more sales than higher ones