The tyranny of choice

Last week I talked a little bit about the nature of the publishing business, and why your author of choice is probably poor. This week I want to expand a little on that, with some examples of the kind of reality the current publishing business model creates, and what that reality means to both readers and writers.

Let’s start with a list. As it does every month, SFSignal has been good enough to compile a list of all of the sf/f books that are coming out this month. You can find it here. Take a moment to go browse through it.

Just to summarize for you, there are 265 new titles coming out this month. That is so many books! So many! And while it’s great that all of these authors are getting a chance to see their books on shelves, there are some practical matters that determine how successful those authors can be in that environment. First, let’s go over some practical matters.

How many titles does your local bookstore stock? My local is good enough to put the new stuff on separate display, though I’ve noticed that not all of them make it. Many just end up on the stacks. But I don’t think the new display exceeds a dozen titles in each format, probably fewer. So you have *maybe* thirty or forty new titles at one time. The sheer difficulty in getting new books in a place that readers will notice it seems a little overwhelming, don’t you think?

Secondly, how many books do you read a month? Because of the peculiarities of reading and writing at the same time, and the fact that I’m naturally not a very fast reader (I savor words. No one who reads me should be surprised by this.) I don’t think I manage more than three books a month. I know that’s remarkably low, but it’s a reasonable number.

Finally, take a moment to go through that list at SFSignal that I linked earlier. How many of those books interest you? With nothing to go on but the cover, the author’s name, and maybe my familiarity with the genre and the buzz generated in the industry, I would say that there are maybe thirty-seven books in there that catch my eye. Maybe a couple more that I would at least read the first page. Mind you, that’s in a vacuum. That’s assuming that I didn’t already have a couple dozen books in my office waiting my attention, that I wasn’t expecting to see just as many interesting books next month, and that I hadn’t skipped buying any books for the last six months because of all the books I already have to read. Thirty-seven.

At my admittedly slow reading rate, that’s a year’s worth of books.

Now, the reality. I know for a fact that I am only going to buy two of those books. I won’t tell you which two, but I think you get my point. It’s simply not possible for most of these authors to succeed, especially when it comes to a second or third book. If I were in a considerably better financial situation, *might* buy some percentage of these books that interest me, but there’s no way I’d get around to reading most of them. And when the second book in a series comes out and I haven’t read the first one? Not going to pick it up. It’s entirely possible that I might love that book, and the first book, and every book that that author writes, but we’ll never know, will we? Because there are too many damned books.

And that’s what I mean by the tyranny of choice.

2 Responses to “The tyranny of choice”

  1. TwiliteMinotaur

    Seems like kind of a no-solution marketscape to me. Aside from some kind of patronage-based society.

    • Tim Akers

      And I think we’re seeing something like that develop. Patreon, Kickstarter and similar communities let people explore outside of the bounds of financial profitability. And patronage has a long history in the arts. It’s only the rise of strict capitalism that has pushed it aside.

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