Print Edition - 2017-12-17  |  Life & Style

Fiction in crisis as sales drop dramatically

- The guardian, LONDON

Dec 17, 2017-

The image of the impoverished writer scratching out their masterwork in a freezing hovel remains as true today as it was a century ago, according to a new report by the Arts Council England (ACE), which revealed that collapsing sales, book prices and advances mean few can support themselves through writing alone.

The report found that print sales of literary fiction are significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties and that the price of the average literary fiction book has fallen in real terms in the last 15 years.

The growth in ebook sales in genres such as crime and romance has not made up for the shortfall in literary fiction.

“It would have been obviously unnecessary in the early 90s for the Arts Council to consider making an intervention in the literary sector, but a lot has changed since then, ongoing changes which have had a massive effect,” said ACE’s literature director Sarah Crown. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing—we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”

Carried out by digital publisher Canelo, the report analysed sales data from Nielsen BookScan and found that between 2007 and 2011, hardback fiction sales slumped by £10m. Paperback fiction had a more extreme dip, seeing declines almost every year after 2008. In 2011, paperback fiction sales were £162.6m; by 2012, they were £119.8m.

The few literary works that have sold more than 1m copies include Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Last year’s bestselling literary novel was Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, which sold 187,000 copies—roughly half the 360,000 copies of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, the bestseller of 2015.

The researchers looked at the 10,000 bestselling fiction titles over the last five years and found: “Outside of the top 1,000 authors (at most), printed book sales alone simply cannot provide a decent income.”

Published: 17-12-2017 08:19

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