Probably one of the more inspiring books I’ve read lately is Chris Fox’s Write to Market – it’s practical, grounded advice for building a writing career in today’s landscape. The principles contained within are solid, the first being: find an under-served market you can target your efforts on.
It makes complete sense from a supply/demand point of view – if you know ahead of time what readers are interested in buying, and they happen to align with what you enjoy writing, you can build a much clearer picture of what you’ll need to do to succeed. Modern content production has changed, after all.
The book got me thinking about how I might apply it to my own ambitions, and it became pretty clear that I’d have to take a very detailed look at the Sci-Fi book market on Kindle. Amazon accounts for a solid portion of global eBook sales, and should serve as a fantastic indicator for what’s trending.
So last night, I worked on exactly that – first, acquiring a snapshot view of the Top 100 books in each of the 21 sub-genres of Science Fiction, and how they relate to the global sales rank. I’ve got some information to share there, as well as some related insights on the composition of the market.
The theory is relatively simple: Amazon lists over five million eBooks on Kindle (depending on what numbers you trust, I guess), and they’re all globally ranked on what Amazon calls their Best Seller rank (I call it ABS for short).
One book can exist in multiple categories – it can have a rank in the niche it serves (for instance, Science Fiction about Genetic Engineering), as well as a global ABS rank. The relation between these tell you how active a niche is.
For instance, if the top 5 books in a niche also exist on the top 10 ABS list, it means there’s a large amount of demand there. If books #80-100 in that same niche are in the high-thousands, that indicates under-served demand: People are buying books in that niche, but for whatever reason are not spending money on some of the lower-ranked books currently available.
This is the fertile ground – you know you have people heavily interested in a particular niche, and they are likely ready to buy anything new and interesting that might land in that category.
If the top 5 books in a niche are in the high-thousands, that means there’s very little demand for that niche. But if all Top 100 books in a niche appear in the top 500 ABS rank, that’s most likely an impenetrable market – and a wildly popular niche.
For the time being, anyway – the ground here shifts constantly as reader tastes evolve. Just like fashion, trends come and go. So despite all the charts I’m showing you in this post, they could be out of date as little as six months from now.
The Niches in Sci-Fi
I’m interested primarily in Sci-Fi, and so focused my analysis there. Things might look different in the other markets, but since I’m not likely to get into Suspense or Young Adult any time soon, I figured I’d give those a miss 😉
Amazon lists 21 niches (or sub-genres) under Sci-Fi:
|Adventure||Alien Invasion||Alternative History|
|Anthologies & Short Stories||Classics||Colonization|
|Galactic Empire||Genetic Engineering||Hard Science Fiction|
|LGBT||Metaphysical & Visionary||Military|
|Post-Apocalyptic||Space Exploration||Space Opera|
|Steampunk||TV, Movie, Video Game Adaptations||Time Travel|
For each one, I set about gathering specific data:
- The list of top 100 books in that niche, based on the niche’s own performance
- For each book, what the global ABS rank is, and who the merchant is
- Timestamped for once-a-day retrieval
Throw them all together in a chart, and you end up with something like this:
Enlightening, right? Let’s rather go by genre, starting with the most hotly-contested one right now – Adventure:
This is the dashboard of a very healthy sub-genre.
The top 20 books all have ABS ranks below 1000, with the top 5 being below 100 – these books are selling very well, and there is clear demand for this sub-genre right now. The market is also being very well served at the moment – none of the ABS ranks are above 10’000, so it’s unlikely that a first-time author, or someone without major existing traction, will be able to break in here right now.
Now let’s look at a less-contested genre – Hard Science Fiction.
This is more like it! The Top 20 books are all under the 2000 ABS rank, and the book sitting at #40 is double that. The category bottoms out at over 12K, so if you’re looking for a place to start, this could be a good sub-genre to do it in.
Finally, the most uncontested sub-genre at the moment – LGBT.
There are no official numbers for this, but the #1 book being at ABS rank 1973 would suggest that it’s selling around 100 copies a day. By comparison, the #1 book in Adventure should be doing around 6000 copies/day. This is according to TCK Publishing’s calculator.
100 copies/day on the top end is not much in terms of demand, so while you could almost definitely rank in this sub-genre, it probably won’t be worth the time investment right now.
All the charts above are looking at the total market though, regardless of whether or not titles were independently published. Let’s get into that next.
Independent publishing on Amazon
I published first versions of these on the Dragon Writers group, but now that I have updated information and time to properly process it, here’s a snapshot of how the Sci-Fi genres break down as of today.
The vast majority of Kindle titles in the Sci-Fi genre are independently published – “Amazon Digital Services LLC” is the business name used there.
A word of warning on this: That same business name is used by Amazon itself on occasion – so far I’ve seen it used for special store listings of old, republished books. Unfortunately that’s just the nature of a project like this – the data is not going to be 100% accurate.
Other than the LLC, there are a few big names in this space, but they account for very few of the titles published.
But then there’s the quality-vs-quantity argument. Are independently-published novels doing better (or worse) than those published by traditional houses?
This one’s a tricky question to answer, so it’ll help to look at it in parts.
Let’s go with all titles under Sci-Fi with an ABS rank of 1000 or higher. At 1000, you’re selling around 185 books/day – it’s an arbitrary number, sure, but we need to start somewhere.
For each of the sub-genres that have books in that ABS range, what proportions were published independently vs traditionally?
It’s no surprise that Traditional is dominating the Classics sub-genre – since that’s literally the genre in which Traditional companies re-package existing traditionally-published books.
But look at the rest – entire sub-genres are being dominated by independently-published titles! This is the encouraging part – on the largest eBook retail platform in the world, it’s possible for independently-published authors to dominate entire sub-genres.
What does the top end look like? Let’s take the top 100 books across all Sci-Fi sub-genres, sorted by ABS rank. The #1 Sci-Fi book is ranked 4th on the Best Seller list, and the #100th book comes in at rank 1429.
That’s the most encouraging chart I’ve produced yet. Across the top 100 titles at the moment, 88 are independent titles – but more than that, there’s no clear bias attributable to the publishing method.
Or in other words: It doesn’t matter if you’re independently or traditionally published – both methods have a chance of reaching the top, and ultimately reaching customers.
None of the data above looks at sales or revenue – a lot is being inferred by the limited ranking information that Amazon makes available. For the most comprehensive report that actually looks at sales, AuthorEarnings is the best place to go.
The intention of this post wasn’t to dive into the industry as a whole, but rather to illustrate two things:
- There is opportunity here, possibly more so than via traditional publishing channels. The markets are wide-open to new entrants, and the opportunities might change over time, but they are always there.
- In the eBook space, it doesn’t matter whether you were published by a big name, or under your own name – both books will have equal treatment, and customers end up making the choices.
Publishing is definitely changing, and I’m excited to see where it goes next.