While it doesn't look like there's a downward trend within 2010 (that is, each month doesn't appear to be getting progressively worse), sales for mystery and thriller titles do seem to be significantly down year-on-year, and this trend seems more pronounced for mysteries than thrillers (the latter category is basically flat to 2009).
Why is this? Well, as usual, I have some theories.
Mysteries and thrillers are psychologically taxing. As I mentioned yesterday, part of the reason fantasy titles (ditto romance—tune in next week!) do well during economic downturns is because they provide escapism, happy endings, &c. While mysteries and thrillers may turn out well, they tend to be darker, stressful for the reader ("suspenseful," "riveting," &c), and don't guarantee happy endings of any sort. Who wants to be terrified by a book when you can be terrified for free by your stock portfolio?
Mysteries and thrillers usually start out as expensive hardcovers. Don't get me wrong: genre fiction in general is conducive to the cheaper mass market format (see yesterday's post on fantasy), and many fantasy titles do start out as hardcovers, but it seems to me that mysteries and thrillers show up as hardcovers slightly more often. Additionally, the shorter average page count (compared to fantasy) means that reincarnated mysteries and thrillers appear to be sold slightly more often as trade papers rather than mass markets, and trade paperbacks tend to run $12 – $16 (compared to $4 – $9 for mass markets).
Two words: Dan Brown. Complete honesty: I have no idea exactly how many copies Dr. B sold of The Lost Symbol, and I can't share the proprietary BookScan information with you. Suffice it to say: when you're comparing mysteries/thrillers in 2010 to 2009—a year in which one title in said genre sold millions of copies—it's going to skew the numbers a little bit. That said, I'm certain the Dan Brown numbers do not account for the entirety of the disparity, and fairly certain they don't account for the majority of it.
Finally, if you're worried about e-books: don't be. At least, not any moreso than you already are. The standard 10% rule (i.e. 10% of all sales are electronic) for adult trade seems to be holding here.
Therefore, meine Autoren, in Noble and Most Ancient Bullet-O-Vision™:
· Mystery/thriller sales in 2010 are down compared to 2009. Womp womp.
· This is probably due to the psychologically taxing nature of the genre, the fact that mysteries and thrillers tend to début in pricey hardcovers, and the fact that 2009 was a slightly unusual (read: Dan Brown) year.
· Electronic sales for this genre are more or less in line with the rest of the market.
All questions, comments, vitriol, praise, &c in the comments section, dear readers, and when we return on Monday: