Dr. Larry Burriss: Sci-fi and Fantasy Author Fonda Lee Decries Barnes & Noble Stocking J.R.R. .


Lee & Tolkien

It seems the theory of entitlement has taken hold of at least one award-winning science fiction author who is upset by the continuing sales of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
Award-winning author Fonda Lee recently criticized Barnes and Noble bookstores for carrying more copies of Tolkien than her own works. She said it’s not fair she is having to compete against what she called “dead guys.”

The last time I checked, books sell lots of copies because they are popular, not because they have shelf space.
When “The Hobbit” made it to colleges campuses in paperback form in 1966, it sold more than 500,000 copies. But remember, in 1966 books were available only in bookstores or through book clubs, making their acquisition somewhat difficult. Lee’s books are easily available on-line as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. So lack of shelf space shouldn’t be a problem.
Now I know there are some people who are critical of the free and open marketplace, but since bookstores are still in the business of making money, they are going to stock books that sell, not books by authors who are upset that their books aren’t selling as well as they would like. And as on-line retailers take over the business, shelf-space becomes less and less important.
Just by way of comparison, I did a completely unscientific search on Google and Amazon. Tolkien had 19-million Google hits and Lee had 200,000. On Amazon books, Tolkien had 3,000 entries and Lee had 29, total.
William Shakespeare, by the way, had 30,000 book entries on Amazon, and 58-million hits on Google.
Lee herself has admitted that awards don’t necessarily translate into sales. And while it’s true that readership is not necessarily a measure of quality, readers who want books will find a way to buy them, whether the author is dead or alive.
I’m Larry Burriss.

DR. LARRY L. BURRISS is a Professor in the School of Journalism & Strategic Media at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN