As part of my marketing efforts, I look at the new books that come out on Amazon. This last month, I performed an informal survey of the latest releases and went through 40 pages of new books. For each book, I put it in a category and then came up with totals.
I hypothesized romance would dominate the field, but the results surprised me. Adult books were at 20%. The topics spanned the entire spectrum of erotic behavior. This ranged from the hard-core S&M to light-lust Amish romance. Overall, there was not one dominant (no pun intended) subcategory. All titles and covers were suggestive and graphic. I found several four-letter words in the titles and X-rated pictures on the covers. Amazon viewers clearly could tell what the book was about, and I am sure these new books would shock casual viewers of this category.
With the wide variety of internet adult material, I would have thought that this book genre would have died out in the ‘90s. I remember in the ‘70s when adult book stores were all over town. By the ‘80s, they had disappeared. I guess this entertainment category found a new life.
Self-help and alternative adult each occupied 15% of the new books. Most self-help books were tune-up guides for your life. Are you depressed? Make these 10 changes. Here are two example titles: “Lets Tide Up: A complete life changing guide to tiding up and get organized” “Psi Power: Shape Your Life With Psychic Power.”
However, the self-help books were not the ones I remember from the ‘80s and ‘90s. One of my favorite self-help books is “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The book offers a detailed guide about how to be a better person. It contains great material, but the author points out the long road to success. Today's self-help books seem more like getting rich quick schemes. Something like: “10 shortcuts to trick people to liking you.”
The alternative adult books all had graphic titles and book covers. However, the content seemed to follow a basic formula. Lusty alternative lifestyle romance stories. I would have expected more variety and a deeper dive into that topic. This category has taken over traditional romance.
Fiction and cookbooks each took up 10%. The fiction works were fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Many of the books had similar covers, and most of the fiction stories were part of a long series. (Essentially, soap-operas.) However, there were only a few basic fiction titles.
I expected the cookbooks to be well… Cookbooks. You know. A book that tells you how to cook and is full of recipes. Instead, they were all niche-focused. A common topic was cooking low-calorie quinoa dishes. Here is a perfect example: “The Essential Star Trek Cocktail Book: Damn It, Jim, I'm A Doctor, Not A Drink Mixer!”
The following categories each took 5%: Mystery, religion, kids, conspiracy/government, romance, and re-release.
Of all the book categories, mystery books remained the same as when I was a kid. They still follow the same plot formula and have the same book covers. Yet, I can see this category declining.
There were many religious books, and this category is expanding, but not in how I expected. Given that we have the internet, databases, newly discovered material, satellite maps, archeological digs, big data analysis, and new ideas, this category should contain some great new material. Instead, the category seems to diverge into unusual niches. Here is a typical example: “3 Biblical Ways to Publicize Your Business.” Some books attempted to explain modern life/politics through religion. All of them seemed to have an us versus them spin. The line between conspiracy and religion is blurring. The religious books I used to see were all about being a better person. That no longer seems to be the case.
The astute blog reader will note that I described the next category as “kids” and not “young adult.” This category has radically changed since I was a kid in the ‘70s. As I was writing this blog, I concluded about what changed. Harry Potter messed this category up. Let me explain. Harry Potter books were written for children, but adults liked them. Now everybody reads “young adult” books. As a result, the young adult category has disappeared.
The kid’s category is for the eight and under crowd. However, the books have changed since was a kid. Now, they must contain a learning component, be earth-friendly, and have a positive push. Essentially, the formula has narrowed, and kid's books lost their playfulness/edge.
The next category is conspiracy/government. In the past, these were separate categories, but politics and people have changed. In the ‘80s, government books read like a textbook. Here are the facts about a government topic, and this is my conclusion. Now we see titles like: “QANON: The Most Complete Report on the Great Conspiracy Against the United States.” Conspiracy/government books now have to be focused with a powerful slant. You are for the authors side or an enemy of all that is good. It is incredible how much things have changed.
The next category is romance. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s this category dominated the written world. I remember entire romance bookstores, and every book followed the same basic formula: A relationship.
Romance books now still focus on relationships, but they fall into distinct categories. There are period romances (generally set in 1800s England on ships.) There is what I term fantasy romance. These books push the limits of plausibility like an average person falling in love with a super rock star. Another is odd combinations like a doctor falling in love with a married patient. Amish romance stories are quite popular. There are crossover romance stories like Romance/Science Fiction or Romance/Erotic.
The last category should not be a category; re-releases. This is when a publisher takes an established book and put it into a new package. This allows old books to get categorized as new. Remember reading Charles Dickens in High School? He is dead. Right? Nope. He is alive and well. He even comes out with new material every year.
I do not understand is why readers get fooled by this rotten trick. Here is an example that I pulled up today: “Agatha Christie Premium Collection.” “The Complete Works of Jane Austen (In One Volume)”
When I clicked on Amazon Kindle, “new releases in the last 30 days.” The first book was “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind.” This book had a release date of three days ago. In that short time, it got 21,760 ratings. On Goodreads, it has a release date of 1963. Yeah, a new release. It appears some rules are getting bent.
My four blog readers probably caught something. What about the other popular categories? Westerns, traditional romance, engineering, science fiction, non-fiction, how to, law, educational, reference, history, crafts, business, medicine, money, art and travel. My four blog readers just pulled up their amazon page and saw those same categories.
I agree that these categories exist, but there are only a few new books in these categories. The titles are from established authors and their older books.
Let’s look at one specific category. Westerns. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, this category dominated the entertainment world. However, if you look at television and movies today, you will not find many western stories. I suspect the classics still sell, but a new author would have a tough time. Why? I guess people no longer like cowboys.
Where are books going? Books on the same path that music took in the ‘90s. Since Edison first recorded music and sold the first record, the formula has been the same. Make a record and sell it at a store. Radio, concerts, music merchandise, cassette tapes, and CDs changed the game slightly, but the basic formula remains.
In the ‘90s, MP3 and the internet came along and decimated music sales. Record companies had no idea what to do, and musicians stopped getting huge checks. Concerts for new groups went from selling ten thousand tickets to bands playing at local pubs. The music business went into a chaotic meltdown.
When the dust settled, musicians still made music, but they distribute it differently. Music categories (listening tastes) git focused on niche markets. The supergroups of the ‘80s used to sprout like weeds. Now, a wide-reaching musical hit is rare, even for a well-known artist.
Publishing followed that same formula. Write a book, print it, and sell it at a store. Movies, plays, and books on tape also slightly changed the game, but the formula remained the same until the 2000s.
Now, books get printed on-demand, downloaded, offered for free, or allow the first chapter is available online. Authors need to target specific audiences in specific categories. A few authors still go through traditional publishers, but the majority self-publish in electronic book format. This new market has a better chance of success, is easier, faster, direct, more controlled, and (potentially) more profitable. Direct eBook publishing has huge limitations, but I would argue that those limitations are rapidly going away.
What about the mega authors? There are still big names like Neil Gaiman. However, these books comprise 1% of the new books and probably get 90% of the money.
My conclusion is that readers are getting more of what they want and less of what they do not want. Now all I have to get them to do is buy my book.
You’re the best -Bill
December 16, 2020
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