A Fantasy Book Revives Store Sales
Amid the growth of the e-book business and online retailers like Amazon, sales of print books in brick-and-mortar stores have been suffering all year.
Not this week.
Beginning Tuesday bookstores had a summer savior in the fantasy author George R. R. Martin, whose new book, “A Dance With Dragons,” the fifth installment of his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, went on sale that day.
Independent booksellers around the country said it quickly emerged as their biggest book of the summer, selling rapidly despite its doorstopper appearance (1,016 pages) and hefty price ($35 undiscounted).
It also temporarily upended the conventional wisdom in the book business that devoted readers of genre fiction — whether romance, sci-fi or fantasy — have begun to prefer reading in e-book format over print. According to first-day sales collected by Random House, more than 170,000 print copies and 110,000 e-book copies sold on Tuesday, the largest opening for a Random House book in 2011.
“What’s been really interesting is the physical-digital split,” said Scott Shannon, the publisher of digital content for the Random House Publishing Group. “These days, for a lot of our big titles, digital is outselling physical. That’s not what we’re seeing here, and it really speaks to George’s fan base.”
Eager customers waited outside bookstores before the doors opened on Tuesday at the Tattered Cover in Denver, Book Culture in Morningside Heights and Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. An event at Barnes & Noble in Burlington, Mass., on Tuesday was attended by 1,600 people. The series has appealed to hard-core fantasy fans, readers of literary fiction and people who have become hooked on the popular HBO series that is based on it, “Game of Thrones.”
“It’s a wonderful phenomenon,” said Cathy Langer, the lead book buyer for the Tattered Cover. “The anticipation has been palpable. People are discovering him now who had never heard of him because of the TV series, so he has all kinds of new readers.”
By e-mail Paul Ingram, the book buyer at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, said, “It’s sort of a Harry Potter for everybody.”
Many bookstore owners got a hint of what was to come several months ago, when customers began buying up the first four books, which are available individually in paperback and in a boxed set. (The first book was published in 1996.) Random House has shipped four million copies of the first four books since January.
“It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized how big of a deal this was going to be,” said Annie Shapiro, an owner of Book Culture. “I can barely keep the backlist in stock. For the last few weeks I was just ordering them in ridiculous quantities.”
Then the early requests for the fifth book began to come in. BookCourt, an independent store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, collected more than 30 preorders for “A Dance With Dragons,” an unusually high number.
It is selling briskly on Amazon as well, holding the No. 2 spot on the company’s books best-seller list on Wednesday, followed by the boxed set of the first four books.
Fans of Mr. Martin have waited more than five years for the publication of “A Dance With Dragons,” pillorying him online as they wondered if he would ever finish writing. Two more books in the series are expected, though Mr. Martin’s publisher would not set a timeline for their release. “I don’t want to speculate,” Mr. Shannon said.
Some of the most devoted fans are already worried about whether Mr. Martin, who by all accounts is in robust health at 62, will complete the last two books. Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, an owner of Greenlight Bookstore, said that one customer in particular who came in on Tuesday was preoccupied with that concern. “He was really forlorn,” she said.