Decline and Fall of an Industry

Evidence for my theory that American pop culture exhausted its creative capital in the late 90s continues to mount.

recorded music revenue per capita, feb 2011

This graph tracks the US record industry’s per capita revenues by year. Note the dramatic decline beginning in 1994 that hit a low point in 1997. We now have a visual representation of American pop culture’s implosion. Yes, there was a brief uptick that culminated around the year 2000, but the almost immediate drop off that followed shows no signs of abating.

Also noteworthy: Whereas the introduction of CDs temporarily saved the industry from the late 70s crash, the so-called digital revolution hardly slowed down the 2000s descent.

The graph above put me in mind of another chart I came across not too long ago. Legacy science fiction publishing follows a similar pattern to the record industry, with introductions of new media cutting into old media market share while bumping up overall sales. The difference is that sci-fi has avoided the record labels’ wild fluctuations and is charting an overall upward trend. And these are oldpub numbers. Indie is doing even better.

SFF trad ebook & audio sales

It’s important to keep in mind that oldpub sci-fi’s continued growth is reliant upon reselling backlisted books by long-established authors, much as the record industry was bailed out in the 80s by forcing everyone to re-buy their favorite 60s and 70s music on CD. The exact opposite is happening in newpub, where new authors’ new books are eclipsing the sales of oldpub’s back catalog.

What this tells us is that there’s still a spark of life and creativity in newpub science fiction. Perhaps those of us who are engaged in creating stories to entertain audiences with no regard for New York publishers’ arbitrary strictures may keep the flame burning through the encroaching Dark Age.

We’ll see. In any event, help independent science fiction authors like me continue to bring you the fun, exciting stories you love. Combat Frame XSeed, my first foray into military science fiction, helped breathe new life into the genre. You can help keep the momentum going by backing the sequel today!

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