Giddy Up.. or Giddy Down?

I received this email from Chuck:

I read on your blog some comments about Westerns going the
way of the buffalo. However, I’ve come across some data that
indicate otherwise. Nielsen BookScan, which covers about 70% of U.S.
book sales, says Western sales have increased by 9% in 2005 and 10% thus far in
2006. Books in Print says the number of Western titles produced
has increased from 543 in 1995 to 901 in 2005. Would you or your knowledgeable readers have any idea
why these numbers contradict the prevailing opinion that the market for Western
literature is dying?

Good question. So I asked three western writers I know. Here are their responses:

"My understanding is that all but two or three publishers have folded
their western lines. I assume this is because that westerns don’t sell
well enough to make them worth the trouble.

"This contradicts all I’ve heard. Does Books in
Print include vanity-press titles? I believe it does. I do know that a flood of
self-published and vanity westerns have been pouring out of XLibris, iUniverse,
etc. (Spur Award judges are telling me that they’re getting mostly vanity press
westerns now.) This also says nothing about sales per title. Are
more books slicing a thinner market? I do know that most western lines have died
off, or have radically cut back. Even Forge is cutting its western line to the
bone. I would need a lot more data than raw numbers of
titles before coming to any conclusions."

"This is interesting, but I think those numbers are
deceptive.  Kensington has been pumping out the William W. Johnstone
reprints by the truckload, and they’ve been selling very well. Throw in
the continued popularity of L’Amour, the Ralph Compton books actually written by
other authors, Leisure’s reprints of Brand, Flynn, Horton, and other pulp
authors, and I still think the market is pretty bad for living Western authors
who want to publish under their own names.  I know two or three guys who
were publishing regularly under their names a few years ago who are now just
doing house-name books because those are the only contracts they can get. 
And with only four house-name series left and sales on those dwindling,
prospects don’t look good for any of us."

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