02 May 2008

The Strength of YA Fantasy and Science Fiction

AliceB provided a nice link to John Scalzi's remarks today about the strength of books sales of Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction compared to the same genre's numbers in the adult genre section of bookstores. I thought that essay was interesting enough to deserve an entry of its own.

So 50 YA titles are selling twice as much as 100 adult SF/F titles. The bestselling YA fantasy book last week (not a Harry Potter book) outsold the bestselling adult fantasy book by nearly four to one; the bestselling YA science fiction title sold three copies for every two copies of the chart-topping adult SF title. And as a final kick in the teeth, YA SF/F is amply represented at top of the general bestselling charts of YA book sales, whereas adult SF/F struggles to get onto the general bestselling adult fiction charts at all.

That serious adult science fiction/fantasy readers don’t seem to know any of this is a) a feature of the opaque nature of book sales, in which no one publicly talks about actual units sold and b) a feature of the apparent short-sightedness of adult sf/f readers, who are missing a genuine literary revolution in their genre because the YA section is a blank spot on the map to them, if not to everyone else.
I wonder if that trend existed or was as strong before Harry Potter, however. At that time, fantasy for young readers was a venerable genre, but not a blockbuster one that brought in many adult readers as well. There was more buzz for such adult science fiction and fantasy authors as William Gibson and Diana Gabaldon than for established children's authors like Diana Wynne Jones. Perhaps the dominance of one area over another comes in waves.


Amitha Jagannath Knight said...

Thanks for posting this. I, too, wonder how Harry Potter has affected this trend, if it has at all. I've always had a preference for MG/YA fantasy and scifi rather than adult stuff, and I'd wager that other people (kids and adults) do too. I'm not sure why this is.

J. L. Bell said...

Fantasy and science fiction are inherently escapist, at some level, and so is reading children’s books for adults. Then again, for kids reading about adults is equally escapist!