The coming death of big publishing

It’s coming, and it’s coming much faster than anyone is really prepared for. Item One: Castalia author Nick Cole visits Barnes & Noble:

The other day I popped in to a big Barnes & Noble anchor store inside a high traffic entertainment complex called the Spectrum down in Irvine, California. The rest of the world may be experiencing some kind of recession as a result of Obama’s disastrous economic policies as is now being admitted by all sides, but Southern California barely shows the effects. Unless you know where to look.

So, I just wanted to cruise the science fiction section, and of course see if any of my books were in stock, and look around and see if there was anything interesting to pick up.

This is just an update on an unfolding disaster I’ve talked about before regarding the science fiction section at Barnes and Noble.

It’s a disaster. Seriously.

The science fiction section consisted of  three small shelves, badly, and fully, stocked with some standard big hitters for sure-fire sales.  But there wasn’t enough evidence in those three tiny half-aisles that spoke exciting and aggressive growth in the genre. It felt stale. It felt old. It felt Soviet. It felt defeated.  Maybe that was because it was stuck on the second floor, back near the bathroom.  You know where they keep all the best selllers and the sexiest books

Hint: No they don’t.

No, this particular placement for the once-vaunted science fiction section, a staple they kept so many bookstores alive with the trade of the faithful binge-buying junkie science fiction readers cleaning them out,  is now relegated to the smelly back of the store.  It seemed like some sort of discount holdover section no bookseller wanted to be sent into to organize. There was no love. It was forsaken.

Of course it is, because modern mainstream science fiction isn’t science fiction at all, but social justice fiction, as Barnes & Noble itself will confirm. Item Two: B&N blogger Joel Cunningham lists 20 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books with a Message of Social Justice:

From The Time Machine to Kirk and Uhura‘s unprecedented kiss, speculative fiction has often concerned itself with breaking barriers and exploring issues of race, inequality, and injustice. The fantastical elements of genre, from alien beings to magical ones, allow writers to confront controversial issues in metaphor, granting them a subversive power that often goes unheralded. On this, the day we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., let us consider 20 novels that incorporate themes of social justice into stories that still deliver the goods—compelling plots, characters you’ll fall in love with, ideas that will expand your mind. Let’s imagine a day when the utopian ideals of Star Trek are more than just the stuff of science fiction. 

They’ll have to imagine it, because it has zero relevance to the society of the future, which is much more likely to resemble the Reavers of Firefly than the neutered pantsuits of Star Trek. I was shocked the last time I visited my favorite Barnes & Noble, and that was more than 12 years ago. What had once been a large, healthy, well-stocked SF/F section – and one that carried both my books at the time – had somehow been shrunk into two bookshelves, one of which was entirely filled with graphic novels and television-show tie-in novels. Most of the rest of the “science fiction” novels had covers that looked like romance novels. I can’t even imagine what it looks like now.

Anyhow, in light of Nick’s prediction, it is interesting to observe that at least one mainstream publisher is attempting to think outside the box, as Macmillan has set up Pronoun, a pan-channel ebook distribution system that pays 70 percent on all digital sales, which compares well with Amazon’s Amazon-only 68.5 percent. It’s a pretty good deal, although it is probably five years too late in coming, as I strongly suspect another system, from a much more formidable player, is already in development.

And finally, since I mentioned graphic novels, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that one for Quantum Mortis is in the works.