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The Trickle-Down Effect of Genre Bookselling by Andrew Liptak

Paperback novels, largely denied a place in “proper” bookstores, had found their ways into consumers’ hands by going through magazine channels, which distributed books to department and grocery stores, as well as newsstands. In 1961, the first bookstore opened that sold paperback novels and bookstobookselling 1res slowly began to stock them on their shelves. Miller notes the stark differences between buyers and the stores they frequented: “The drugstores, the discount stores, and the newsstands were the outlets geared toward the growing mass of working-class readers. Bookstores, on the other hand, cultivated the “carriage trade”—a more affluent, educated group of patrons. Thus, bookshop owners did little to counter their growing reputation among the public for being intimidating figures with minimal patience for customers who were not appropriately bookish.”

While this was happening, genre paperback publishing hit its stride. David G. Hartwell noted that when he entered the science-fiction publishing industry as a young editor at Signet Books in 1971, the genre publishing field became "unknowable: the total number of books published per month was 32 in hardcover and paperback," a number that exceeded what anyone could realistically read, between the books and magazines. Throughout the 1960s, Hartwell noted, "the biggest money you could make in SF was a serial to the major magazines...you could make more money serializing your story in Analog" than one could by selling the rights to a paperback publisher. By the 1970s, that point had tipped, and paperback publishers began to pay above the serialization rate that the magazines paid.

This is owed in part to the number of science-fiction paperback publishing lines out there: 12 in all. Competition between the various paperback lines increased, and science fiction authors found themselves in more demand. An author could typically expect an advance of around $5,000 (just under $30,000 in 2014 dollars) for a three-book contract with a paperback publisher, with some advances going as high as $100,000 (almost $600,000 now).

Fascinating nuggets in this article that will make one happy AND sad. For one thing, genre numbers are up right now--I think I saw at SFSignal that 350 SFF books are going to be published this month. On the other hand, we only have, what, five big genre publishers right now and a number of smaller publishers that go in and out of business seemingly at the drop of hats. Also, those advance numbers--I think right now the average-ish is something like $2-5k in today dollars, with a $30k advance if you've become a steady seller, so... yeah. Fascinating look at the history of the industry though.

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