The trouble with fiction

Below is a table of book sales figures in 2014 and 2015 by category from our friends at Publishers Weekly:
Adult Non-Fiction
2014 2015 % Change
Art/Architecture/Design/Photography 6984 11172 60%
Biography/Autobiography/Memoir 22803 23544 3%
Business/Economics 16604 17155 3%
Cooking/Entertaining 15492 15495 0%
Computers 4652 4234 -9%
Crafts/Hobbies/Antiques/Games 8485 11486 35%
Health/Fitness/Medicine/Sports 21574 21557 0%
History/Law/Political Science 15220 17132 13%
House & Home/Gardening 2130 3184 49%
Humor 4897 4660 -5%
Performing Arts 7706 8321 8%
Reference 31989 33266 4%
Religion/Bibles 35798 35930 0%
Self Help 9848 11279 15%
Travel 7417 7620 3%
General Non-Fiction 28533 30009 5%
Total Adult Non-Fiction 240130 256042 7%
Adult Fiction
Classics 7578 9985 32%
Occult/Psychological/Horror 3329 2218 -33%
Religion 4174 4414 6%
Fantasy 7526 6600 -12%
Science Fiction
4142
5964
44%
Suspense/Thrillers
20111 21783 8%
Action Adventure 2239 2285 2%
Graphic Novels 8669 10591 22%
Western 2232 2186 -2%
Mystery/Detective 14304 12533 -12%
Romance 30885 28031 -9%
General Fiction 33524 35101 5%
Total Adult Fiction 138712 141690 2%
Juvenile Non-Fiction
Animals 4625 5128 11%
Biographies/Autobiographies 3979 4253 7%
Concepts
3790 4296 13%
Education/Reference/Language 6496 7651 18%
Games/Activities/Hobbies 12362 13703 11%
History/Sports/People/Places 11232 12753 14%
Holidays/Festivals/Religion 3895 4073 5%
Social Situations/Family/Health 2502 2766 11%
Total Juvenile Non-Fiction 48882 54624 12%
Juvenile Fiction
Animals 9051 10112 12%
Classics 9981 10161 2%
Concepts 8909 9307 4%
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Magic 45511 44578 -2%
History/Sports/People/Places 14107 13550 -4%
Holidays/Festivals/Religion 8621 9418 9%
Social Situations/Family/Health 27815 24932 -10%
General
52690 49325 -6%
Total Juvenile Fiction 176685 171383 -3%
Generally speaking, adult nonfiction outsells adult fiction nearly 2 to 1.  Among juvenile titles, fiction outsells nonfiction 3 to 1. Focusing in on the adult fiction categories, occult/horror/psychological, fantasy, and mystery/detective categories — three areas we publish heavily — have been in decline. Fiction on the rise includes science fiction, suspense thrillers and graphic novels. If you are a fiction writer thinking about switching to juvenile fiction, think again — overall this is in decline — probably due to the lack of a category-killing best-seller.
Among adult nonfiction, everything is on the rise except for computer and humor books. Thus, it is fertile ground for the vast majority of new titles.
I had mentioned in prior newsletters about our movement at Sunbury Press to balance out our fiction / nonfiction offerings.  In the past, we published 70% fiction, but found our sales were 70% nonfiction. The overall market bears this out.
So, what to do? A typical fiction title costs a little less to produce, but sells a lot less most of the time. It seems like our decision to mix in more nonfiction makes more sense.
But, given the number of returns, and the low sales, is fiction really worth the risk? If you are a fiction author, you should be asking yourself this question.
While we have no intention to eliminate our fiction categories, we clearly have to keep up or get ahead of the trends. Some of our fiction authors should consider writing in more desirable fiction categories, if they are so moved.  Also, a fiction author might find more success converting to nonfiction — write that history book or self-help book you’ve been thinking about.
The other thing to think about is format.  The fiction that does sell, sells better in ebook format than print, whereas nonfiction sells better in print.  Thus, fiction seems better suited for a low-risk, no returns, ebook-focused online marketing campaign, whereas nonfiction is best suited for more traditional discovery through earned media and SEO.
While some of this has been evident for a number of years, it is really hitting home as we deal with other changes in the industry. As the ebook business continues to consolidate and Amazon favors the big publishers and star authors (as I mentioned last month), there is less and less opportunity for the upcoming fiction writer, who is lost among a sea of low grade self-published material subject to steep discounts and turned-off readers. We need to cycle through this generation of free rubbish until the good independent press author can rise again.  In the meantime, we must together hack away at this jungle and find our way through!