I am out of new reading material, so wandered by the book rack at my local Fred Meyer – a big box store. They typically have a pretty decent selection of both science fiction/fantasy and mystery, a couple of well stocked racks of both.
I prefer SF/F, but came away with nothing new. Why?
- 75% of what was on the shelves was series fiction – and most of the books were book 2, 3 or 4 in that series.
- 25% of the books (also mostly series) appeared to be paranormal fiction, many featuring the backside of some butt-kicking heroine who would be fighting vampires, demons, shapeshifters, etc.
- 10% of shelf space was media tie-in books – Star Trek, Star Wars, Forgotten Realms, etc.
- 3 or 4 books were vintage SF – a Charles Gibson, Timothy Zahn, Gregory Benford. Excellent books, but I’ve read them.
- Of the several books remaining, most were by known authors I dislike (William Dietz, David Weber)
I can understand why publishers might want to publish series – they get stickiness, a set of readers that stay with the author through the series of books. I’d suggest, though, that serial works see a diminishing level of return, depending on book quality, publishing frequency and author prominence.
On the flip side, you get readers like me, who would love to browse a bookshelf and pick up a standalone book, but who are not interested in a middle book in a series (which is often all that’s available) nor a long term commitment to a given author.
I’d suggest that the sales lost in the latter case exceed the potential market retained through the life of most series, with rare exceptions.
Come on, booksellers, publishers – how about more standalone books? I can’t remember the last time I saw a one-off fantasy book. And while we’re at it, could we try to put out a little more space opera/hard SF and a little less vampire romance?