For your consideration. From Richard S. Wheeler.
While perusing the website of Western Writers of America I came across a November 20 press release that startled me. It said western sales were up. According to the Neilsen BookScan, which covers 70 percent of all book sales in the country, western titles were up 9 percent in 2005 and so far this year, up 10 percent. What's more, the release said, western titles listed in Books in Print had risen from 543 in 1995 to 901 in 2005.
The news startled me. It was contrary to all I've been hearing from NY publishers and editors. I queried the author of the release, wanting more substantiation, but she didn't respond. So I contacted Cara Milo at Nielsen and asked a number of questions about what sort of books were tracked. She replied as follows:
The sales of fiction western books have risen in the last two years; western nonfiction, academic books about the west and juvenile westerns would not be included in this trend. This increase is seen in units sold which is what BookScan tracks. As for your other question, we do not obtain data from distributors. I’ve attached a list of our panel of reporting retailers.
What interested me here is that BookScan does not track sales by distributors such as Anderson News, which have always been the great sellers of western fiction. I'm glad sales are up in bookstores, big box stores, chains, etc., but this data should be tempered by the absence of news about how distributors are doing.
As for Books in Print, it should be remembered that it does not distinguish between books published commercially and vanity books done by print-on-demand publishers such as PublishAmerica and iUniverse, etc. Also, POD publishing has made it possible for authors to put dead books back into print. At my request, Forge put eight out of print Skye's West novels into POD form, and they are back in print. Through the Authors Guild I put 15 reverted titles back in print. Sunstone Press will put six more reverted titles back in print. My friend Jeanne Williams has 45 titles listed in the Authors Guild back in print program, some of them westerns. Between Jeanne and myself, we may account for around 50 of those in-print titles. These trends easily explain why western titles in print are growing, but it scarcely means there is an upward trend.
But are commercial publishers doing more titles? No. It is now possible to see what they are doing by checking their websites. For example, HarperCollins did ten mass-market westerns this year, but has only one, an Elmore Leonard reprint, scheduled for the first quarter of 2007. Pinnacle, once a stalwart, is still doing some "William Johnstone" novels, and will do three next year, which is down sharply. But it has only one traditional western scheduled for 2007, a Max McCoy novel. It did three in 2006, two L'Amour imitations and one labeled a western but set on the east coast of Mexico. In short, my check of some publishers' websites indicated that there is no flood of new titles.
"Why such an upsurge in westerns?" the WWA press release asks, breathlessly.
I wish I knew.