Urban Fantasy: Science Fiction’s Future?

By Neal Comment

Less than two weeks after counting all the swords on the covers of fantasy novels, Orbit Books publisher Tim Holman is once again donning his statistical analysis hat, this time to track the rising popularity of urban fantasy fiction. “Of the 20 bestselling fantasy books of 2008, no fewer than 15 were urban fantasy,” Holman wrote, after checking figures provided by Nielsen Bookscan. “Include science fiction, and still 9 of the Top 20 bestsellers in the SFF market were urban fantasy.”

“The rise of urban fantasy has without any doubt been the biggest category shift within the SFF market of the last 10 years in the US,” Holman continues, and he’s got two pie charts to show just how significant that shift is, as the hottest selling books from just 14 percent of the frontlist wind up occupying 45 percent of the overall bestseller list.

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“Can you imagine an SFF imprint publishing, for example, 5 books each month, 3 of them being urban fantasy?” Holman asks. “In today’s market, it’s quite possible that this imprint is more likely to succeed than one with 3 out of every 5 books being something other than urban fantasy.” That doesn’t mean we should expect to see a flood of more book covers with swords and skyscrapers—at least not from every publisher. Holman suggests the urban fantasy uptick might be part of a larger genre boom, for example—and we’d be curious to see how much of what he’s calling “urban fantasy” straddles the “paranormal romance” line, because we’re willing to bet that’s a significant factor, too.

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