This probably doesn't come as a big surprise to most of you. John and Jane Q. Public, percentage-wise, don't read a lot of literary fiction; the lion's share of fiction seems to go to children's/YA, fantasy, and romance (chiefly of the paranormal variety), though thrillers and "general fiction" (mostly women's fiction) are also larger wedges of the pie.
I'm not sure I can give you a whole lot in terms of specific theories about why literary fiction is down; it's probably for the same reasons people never watch movies that won prestigious awards but have seen Air Bud like thirty times. Most people watch non-cerebral television shows, go to see non-cerebral movies, and read non-cerebral books. Even the cerebral among us have been known to watch Jersey Shore or read Twilight.
If you're writing literary fiction, you probably already realize it's more a labor of love than a serious commercial enterprise (though I wish it weren't, and that you could command a six-figure advance and sell tens of thousands of copies). Your advance will be lower than average, your sales figures will be lower than average, and unless you're both phenomenally talented and phenomenally lucky (a rare combination), you won't be the next Michael Chabon or Zadie Smith.
Literary fiction is also hard to write. Like, really hard, bros and she-bros. Everything hinges on your ability, and not so much on your killer (or not-so-killer) plot. I have seen successful self-help books and middle grade novels written by people who cannot, in my estimation, write their way out of a paper bag. I have yet to see a decent literary novel guilty of the same.
Therefore, in Ye Olde Starvinge Artiste's Bullet-O-Vision™:
· Literary fiction sales (gross dollars) appear to be down year-on-year. As Shakespeare once said: O snappe.
· While sad, this is probably not super surprising, and probably does not reflect a decreasing trend in American interest as regards fine literature.
· Americans have largely been uninterested in fine literature for about 240 years, although I suppose books were more important before there were radio shows and television and the Internet and Xboxes.
· Sorry, I seem to be channeling Kurt Vonnegut here.
· If you're curious about e-books, the 10% rule (see previous posts in this series) seems to hold firm, although it may be impacted by electronic sales of Franzen's Freedom.
Tomorrow: Science fiction!