Some comparison data on gender: Amazon

More as a data grabbing exercise than anything, I tabulated the Amazon Best Seller list for Science Fiction and Fantasy: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Science-Fiction-Fantasy/zgbs/books/25/ref=zg_bs_pg_1?_encoding=UTF8&pg=1

This data is a snapshot and right now the list is naturally dominated by Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, so the list contains a lot of different versions of both (print version, audio version, Kindle version etc). It’s also very Amazon with some popular-in-Kindle-unlimited works further down the ranks.

I took the top 100 listed and then did a few things to the data. Firstly, I deleted multiple versions of a work, that will add a bit of bias to the data by understating the impact of biggest sellers. I then classified authors based on name, pronouns, and bios as male, female, non-binary or both (in the case of dual authors). I didn’t identify any authors for the non-binary category. One author name was a joint authorship of a man & woman and was counted as “both”. That took the initial 100 rows down to 84 rows.

I then duplicated that data set and in the second version I deleted multiple works by an author leaving only the highest ranked work from the Amazon list. This was done so a single author wasn’t double counted (or n-tuple counted in the case of J.K.Rowling) but the process reduces the success of authors like Rowling or Stephen King. That took the number of rows down to 55.

The results are delightfully ambiguous with enough contrary results to please multiple readings.

Gender All Works Top Work All Works Top 50 Top Work Top 50
Female 56% 49% 61% 54%
Male 43% 49% 39% 46%
Both 1% 2% 0% 0%
  • All Works: counts by author gender of the 85 books in the SFF Amazon bestsellers.
  • Top Works: counts by author of the 55 books by unique authors in the SFF Amazon bestsellers.
  • All Works Top 50: counts by author ranked 50 or better out of the 85 (36 books).
  • Top Work Top 50: counts by authors ranked 50 or better out of the 55 (24 books).

Looking at just works ranked 25 or better results in a figure more consistent between the two sets of data.

Gender All Works Top 25 Top Work Top 25
Female 59% 56%
Male 41% 44%

Make of this what you will 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Some comparison data on gender: Amazon

  1. By point of comparison – albeit very much of the apples and oranges variety – here’s a quick-and-dirty analysis of a dataset I’ve been building for a couple of years or so, of which titles have appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookScan SF monthly top 10s over the past 26 months.

    Out of 58 different releases appearing in the SF top 10 over that period, counting hardback, paperback, movie tie-in editions, etc with different ISBNs separately, the stats for books with female authors or contributors are as follows:

    (Hope this renders OK – please feel free to edit or delete this comment if it gets mangled by WordPress.)

    7. Station Eleven – 14 appearances

    8. The Power (hardback edition, I think) – 14 appearances

    11. The Power (paperback edition) – 8 appearances

    18. Star Wars – From a Certain point of View (multiple author anthology) – 3 appearances

    20. Star Wars – Master and Apprentice – 3 appearances

    22: Star Wars – Battlefront II – Inferno Squad – 2 appearances

    23. Star Wars – Phasma – 2 appearances

    40. Star Wars – Canto Bight (multiple author anthology) – 1 appearance for this and everything following

    42. The Left Hand of Darkness

    44. Writers of the Future Volume 34 (multiple authors)

    52. Parable of the Sower

    53. The City in the Middle of the Night

    58: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Black Spire

    By my reckoning, that’s 10 female-authored novels (counting the different editions of The Power separately) and 3 anthologies with male and female – and maybe non-binary, I didn’t check that far – contributors. That works out at 17% and 5% respectively.

    If we instead count number of appearances, those total to 46 for female authors and 5 for multiple authors – so out of a total of 260 appearance “slots”, that’s 17% and 2% respectively.

    I also have similar data for their fantasy charts, but as I’m not a fantasy fan, I don’t recognize a lot of the lower selling titles, and can’t do the gender analysis as quickly. At a casual glance, it does appear to me less male-dominated than the SF chart though – e.g. there are three female authored titles in the top 10 by number of appearances:

    2. The Fifth Season (17 appearances)

    7. A Discovery of Witches (8 appearances)

    9. Year One: Chronicles of the One, book 1 (7 appearances)

    NB: the PW/BookScan charts should definitely be taken with a pinch of salt. Several titles that appeared in the regular weekly top 25 of all books during this time never appeared in the genre charts – GRRM’s Fire and Blood in particular was a blatant absence, especially given numerous other GoT volumes do appear in the fantasy chart, and The Handmaid’s Tale, Vox & Fall, or Dodge in Hell strike me as books that probably should have appeared in the SF chart, but didn’t.

    NB#2: I’m definitely not claiming the data above is any better than what you’ve grabbed and analysed from Amazon – quite the contrary, given the prior observation about missing titles. Rather, it seems that different sources tell rather different stories.

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      1. Locus doesn’t do mass market paperback, which is a problem in a field that is still mainly mass market paperback, but that’s probably because so much of the mmp sales are non-bookstore and it’s too hard to gather up the info on it for them. But in hardcover and trade pbk, Locus draws from Amazon in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, PW/Bookscan numbers, the New York Times, the LATimes, the USAToday list, and chains and specialty stores in both the U.S. and Canada. So while a chunk of the general fiction SFF and paranormal romance might not get on the list, depending on how they set up their criteria for the aggregate data, it’s going to give you a wider range of sales data on the field.

        Another thing you can do, but it takes a lot more work, is to look at who the major and secondary tier SFF publishers are putting in their top slots each month that are not debuts. This will include some cross-marketing with the general SFF titles that these publishers that are imprints of larger houses are putting out. Unless you are a debut that they’re flying a bet on with a big marketing push, lead slots are for titles from authors who are category bestsellers with high numbers. Of course, as we know, publishers do still favor the men authors with placement and marketing because sexism, but it’s another source of data.

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    1. I’ve been meaning to do a proper analysis of the Locus charts for a while, but I’d gotten the impression from casual inspection that they were reasonably close to the PW/BookScan charts I’ve already been processing, just segmented by format rather than genre This probably isn’t surprising given that the Locus charts list B&N as one of their sources, who presumably also make up a good chunk – the majority? – of the sales counted in the PW/BookScan charts.

      I’ve just done a quick examination of the most recent charts I can find on the Locus site are for May 2019 (found here: https://locusmag.com/2019/08/locus-bestsellers-august-2019/ ). Comparing them against the BookScan charts for the same period – which AFAIK are not archived online – the following titles appear in both:

      Storm Cursed: #3 in Locus h/c; #2 in BookScan fantasy

      A Game of Thrones: #1 in Locus p/b and #1 in Locus tpb; #1, #3, #4 and #7 in BookScan fantasy (multiple formats)

      Good Omens: #2 in Locus p/b and #6 in Locus tpb; #6 in BookScan fantasy

      Dune: #3 in Locus p/b; #3 and #6 in BookScan SF (multiple formats, although I think one is h/c)

      The Name of the Wind: #6 in Locus p/b; #9 in BookScan fantasy

      Three Body Problem: #4 in Locus tpb; #4 in BookScan SF

      Children of Ruin: #5 in Locus tpb; #7 in BookScan SF

      SW: Master & Apprentice: #1 in Locus Media & Gaming; #2 in BookScan SF

      So, of the 20 titles in the BookScan SF & Fantasy top 10s, 12 appeared in one of the Locus charts. The other 8 are: The Power, Ready Player One, The Martian, Ender’s Game, Overlord #10 (translated Japanese light novel), The World of Ice & Fire, A Discovery of Witches, and A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Those seem reasonably consistent with the idea that the BookScan charts are based on sales in “mainstream” outlets, whereas the Locus charts include specialist retailers.

      It’s slightly curious that there’s only one crossover from the Locus hardcover list, but (a) perhaps this was an atypical month, and (b) Fire and Blood should definitely have appeared in the BookScan fantasy genre list, as it was in the weekly top 25 of all hardcover fiction in this period.

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