Have Literary Luddites Taken Over SFF Fandom?!

For the past year, I’ve been doing the indie thing- writing and self-publishing my own novels on Amazon, B&N, etc. During that time I’ve learned quite a lot and have come to the conclusion that SFF fans are luddites when it comes to the literary scene.

I don’t base this on my own pitiful sales. I went into it knowing that it’s a long shot to sell much, given there are over a million books for sale on Kindle. I also realize that selecting a niche market, New Pulp, might not have been the best idea either. Then there’s always the possibility that I just suck as an author.

But I still say SFF fans are literary luddites.

I base this on numbers. Indie authors like to talk about numbers- over at the KBoards Writer’s Café, they talk stats all the time. From them, I’ve learned that 70% or so of all ebook sales are in the smut category- sorry, Romance/Erotica category. Oh, and they also claim about 70% of all ereader owners are women.

I could fact check those numbers, but it’s far easier to just go to Kindle’s main search page and take a look at the top 100 sellers. As I write this, the first SFF that jumps out at me is George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones at #29, followed by a World War Z book at #30. But those are traditional publishers. Not Indies. Traditional publishers throw around more advertising money in a month than I’ve made in my whole pitiful career as a public servant (no, I don’t write for a living). Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.

Nope, the Top 100 paid books at Kindle are either traditionally published adapted to ebook format, or “Romance”-themed novels with covers featuring shirtless men or young girls staring vacantly off into space. Because, apparently, that’s what women want to read.

It’s not just there that SFF lacks electronic respect. Consider Will Murray’s recent Doc Savage vs. King Kong novel Skull Island. Did it come out as an ebook? Not at first. Nope, first it was a print edition. Why is that? Why not release it as both?

And of course, in the process of trying to get my own meager contribution to the SFF literary world reviewed, I learned that many reviewers turn their noses up at ebooks- they want print copies only.

I find this baffling, and very disheartening. I get that a lot of Pulp fans are old fuddy duddies who may not understand FTPs, Servers, Email and what HTML coding is, and therefore cling desperately to their dead trees. I get that collecting is a huge part of being an SFF fan and that you can’t show off an ebook collection to visitors to your home without firing up some kind of computer.

But what about the rest of you?

For years we all wished for portable TVs to watch in our flying cars. The movie BIG even featured Tom Hanks’ character proposing a digital comic book reader- something many a young comic book reader had wanted for some time. Then there’s Star Trek with it’s tricorders and PADDs.

We live in an age of pocket computing now. The future is finally here. No, we can’t fly to work every morning, but we have smart phones and tablets and tricorder and PIPBoy apps to let us geek out and appease our inner SFF child. Why then do we not have ereaders?

Aside from the collecting aspect, what is so bad about an reader? Okay, I’ll give you that they require electricity. And that on a bright day they are hard to read outside. Other than that, what is the downside to e-reading?

Water? Drop a paperback into a pool and see if you can still read it. Your tablet might actually be salvageable- a phone sure is, if you know the old uncooked rice trick.

Size? Yes, a paperback will fit in your back pocket. No, you wouldn’t want to put your tablet or smart phone in your back pocket as you might forget and sit on it.

You like the way a paperback feels in your hands? How about a tablet- it can be held in one hand- and weighs about the same. You have a hand free, meaning you can hold that tablet up longer.

Yes, I keep talking about tablets- that’s because those indies-in-the-know like to cite articles that ereader sales are down, because consumers are buying tablets instead. Tablets that can surf the web, watch movies and play games. Try that on your paperback.

When you look at it objectively, tablets and ereaders are far superior to reading a dead tree. They are self illuminated. They can carry hundreds of novels. They do other stuff.

Why then are they not more popular among avid readers? I just don’t get it. Many women read Victorian-era crotch novels (as my dearly departed grandfather always called them) on 21st century pocket computers, while SFF fans cling to combustible paper throwbacks. What is that all about?

What is it about SFF that appeals to you as a fan? Technology for the Science Fiction fans, I’d hope. Magic for the Fantasy fans. What is more magical than a modern tablet? What is more the epitome of modern technology? Can you imagine Tony Stark stomping around in medieval armor? Would you have enjoyed the movies anywhere near as much? Would Star Trek have been as appealing if it had been set on a sailing ship, and the crew rowed ashore to discover new islands, while boldly fighting the effects of scurvy?

Before you claim that tablets and ereaders are expensive… yes, I agree. They are. But you know what? Ebooks are often cheaper. And not just indie ones. Paperbacks are upwards of $10 now. Buy just fifteen novels in one year and you’ve spent as much as an ereader would cost. And if you read considerably more than fifteen books in one year, it won’t take long to get to the point where it would have been cheaper to buy an ereader and the ebook versions. Which you could carry around all at once, instead of taking up valuable shelf space that could used for your licensed prop replicas and action figure collections.

In my opinion, it is downright disgraceful that the SFF community weren’t the early adopters of ereaders and that we haven’t cornered the market for ebooks. Of all the readers out there, we are the ones that should be embracing technology, instead of clinging to the archaic.

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  1. I’ll not get into the romance fiction issue – I’ll let Marilyn and Heather handle that one.

    What I will offer up is a theoretical explanation for SF Fan’s ludditism(?): we all spend most of our mental time in the future – reading about it, writing or trying to write about it, talking about it at cons, etc., ad infinitum. But we need an anchor (however light) to reality. After all of the flying around through and “what would happen if”, we need something that remains comfortably the same, a zeroing point we can return to. “Normalcy”. I suspect that in many cases that normalcy is derived from a world that existed when the individual first began seriously engaging with the unreal (THIS is real…THIS is fiction). Depending upon when that moment occurred for the individual, it could be a time before the internet, cell phones & etc. – that stuff, so far as my hind brain is concerned is all make-believe, things I read about, not live through. “Reality” (anchor) is radio plays, rotary phones, typewriters, sliderules, leaded gasoline (@.40/gallon), broadcast TV and networks that shut down at midnight; I’ve got enough future stuff in my fiction I don’t need or want it in my “reality”.
    The word I’m looking for here is “stability”. Stable was when I was 6, or ten, or 16, not now when you have to swap phones (of all things) every 6 months; when you have to relearn programs you are familiar with because the developers decided to change everything, when televisions “channels” come and go. It’s bad enough that the pace of life seems to increase simply as a consequence of aging – I don’t need the rest of it to be increasing in pace around me at the same time.
    So (some of us) do little things to preserve that stability like refusing to engage with “yet another technology that is going to make our lives better (but in reality just saddles us with another device that has to be periodically plugged into the wall.)
    That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it, walking stick and all. Mind the lawn, the old man gets mightily pissed when you walk on it.

  2. I only buy Kindle editions when they are much cheaper. If I am giving up the right to easily lend a book easily or give it away then I should pay less for the non-transferable license to read the book on my Kindle.

    I am a female computer consultant. I am not a Luddite or romance reader but I feel the current pricing is absurd.

    Maybe we are more sophisticated and concerned about DRM than the average reader instead of being behind the adoption curve as you suggest?

  3. I read mostly SF/fantasy/horror. Right now I am reading a Daniel Abraham book that I purchased for ~$11 on my Kindle. The last three ARCs I had the opportunity to read, I told the publisher an eBook would be fine (when they were willing to send me a physical copy).

    I tend not to buy any physical commercial fiction books (unless it is a particular author that I am fond of). I understand that romance novels have been hot among indie authors, but I haven’t noticed SF fans to be luddites with regard to book purchases. Sure, many are avid fans who like to collect the physical object (I just purchased LOA’s Science Fiction Novels of the Fifties even though I already received the electronic version of it), but I think many are just as eager to pick up electronic copies too — especially if they are priced right.

    Keep writing and stay positive. As long as there are readers, eBooks will continue to be the future of publishing.

  4. I can tell you one reason you are failing. You are insulting more than half the readers you could have with all those patronizing comments about women and romance.

    Women, particularly romance readers, are literary omnivores. They read EVERYTHING that offers them a good story and decent characterization. That includes science fiction and pulp science fiction.

    Heck, I am published in both romance and science fiction (space opera) as well as the hybrid sf romance, and most of my readers are women who read everything I write.

    And, yes, as an ebook pioneer who entered this market over thirteen years, I can affirm that women have always been a huge part of this market, both because they are buying and reading more than men, and because they were the majority of those who read ebooks in the early days.

    They entered this market partly because they were such omnivores, partly because the big publishers at the time were shutting down marginal subgenres like the Regency romance and sf romance which moved to ebook publishers, partly because some romance authors were evangelists for ebooks, and partly because men were so busy dumping scanned science fiction and fantasy masters on Usenet so that sf/f authors and publishers considered ebooks a plague rather than a new market.

    If you want the real scoop on who is doing well in the self-pubbed sf/f market, I suggest you go to http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/ and scrolled down to find their articles on the bestsellers in each genre as well as their info on the subject.

    1. I take it you like reading romance. Fine, read away. But my point was SFF should be adopting the technology they’ve read about for years. Smut readers didn’t adopt the ereader because they dig tech, but because ereaders offer a multitude of cheap/free literary porn.

      1. I was say this simply. Romance is not smut or porn. Erotica mostly isn’t smut, but it definitely isn’t porn. Porn is porn. They are as widely different from each other as science fiction is from fantasy or mystery. And, once again, you are insulting possible audience.

        As I said, I’ve been around since the Stone Age of ebooks, and romance readers have been the fastest adapters, but mystery and sf/f readers have adapted, as well.

        Romance and mysteries have always been much, much better sellers than sf/f in paper, and if you take fantasy away, the sales for sf are seriously sad so it’s not surprising that you aren’t seeing massive sales in this genre as ebooks since the readership isn’t very big. That’s the sad truth of the matter.

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