First of all, my thanks to Bill Contento, compiler of the Locus database, for making the following information available. I asked Bill for information on the number of anthologies published every year. He sent me a list covering every year from 1941 to 2004, a period that saw 4,236 science fiction anthologies (original and reprint) published.
Now, before making any further comment, I should make it clear that the data I have available comes from one single (particularly good) database. I believe that it offers the most complete and accurate information available, but it is still only one data source. It’s possible other data exists which may contradict some of my interpretations, but I think it’s the best data available and at least a good indicator of the pattern of trends etc.
Roger Elwood published his first anthology, Alien Worlds, in 1964. He went on to publish a further sixty six anthologies, the last of which, Spinechillers: Unforgettable Tales of Terror, appeared in 1978. He hit his publishing peak in the mid-70’s, editing no fewer than 58 reprint and original anthologies between 1972 and 1977, peaking in 1974 when he published 23 books (or almost one in four of the SF anthologies published in the US that year).
In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entry on Elwood, John Clute and Malcolm Edwards observe that “…At one time it was estimated that Roger Elwood alone constituted about one quarter of the total market for SF short stories…” This claim was based on the number of anthologies Elwood edited, as well as number of magazine and other projects. They go on to say “…as the oversaturated anthology market contracted, he [Elwood] diversified into editing the SF lines of various publishers…” Clearly, Elwood entered the field, published a huge number of books (of dubious merit), and then left. As Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s wikipedia entry mentioned earlier states “…Roger Elwood ended that, singlehandedly breaking the story collection/anthology market. It has never wholly recovered. He squandered industry credibility accumulated over decades by better anthologists, and wrecked the readers’ faith in collections. To this day, anthologies and story collections remain a hard sell.”
My question is, do the quantitative figures bear that out? Well, not really. There is no doubt that after a peak year in 1974 when 100 anthologies appeared, the number of anthologies published fell sharply reaching bottom in 1983 and not fully recovering till 1987 when 109 anthologies were published. However, even that is somewhat deceptive.
|SF Anthologies 1941-2004|
If you remove Elwood’s books from the figures for a moment, you see a fairly steady growth through the time he was publishing, with only a slight trough between 1981 and 1985. Arguably, up to a point, the trough in the number of anthologies observed following Elwood’s departure from the field had as much to do with him not producing books himself, as any other impact his books may have had. It’s also interesting to note that much of the increase in the number of anthologies published after Elwood’s departure could be attributed to the anthologies edited or co-edited by Martin H. Greenberg, who entered the anthology field in 1974 and has dominated it since 1980.
While I think the figures show that it’s hard to maintain an argument that Elwood materially affected the number of anthologies published, it’s much harder to refute the qualitative assessments in Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s wikipedia entry. As noted earlier, Nielsen Hayden writes:
Was Roger Elwood dishonest? Nothing can be proved, certainly not at this late date. What’s safe to say is that there are no very creditable explanations for his flood of anthologies in the mid-1970s; that the publishers who bought them would never have done so if they’d had any idea that he was carpet-bombing SF publishing with anthology projects; that many of his anthologies (if not all the stories in them) were well below par in terms of their quality; and that the subsequent collapse of the anthology and story-collection market did long-term damage to science fiction as a whole.
Looking at the available evidence, the only statements in the piece I would question are that the market never wholly recovered, and that he did long term damage to science fiction as a whole. In purely quantitative terms, I think Elwood did little damage. The market, if not publishers’ confidence, did return. Certainly anthologies are a hard sell these days (I can confirm from personal experience), and have the reputation of something of a poor cousin in sales terms, but they can be sold. Was science fiction damaged? Well, I don’t think there was a subsequent collapse of the anthology market, unless you’re talking in terms of editor/publisher confidence and in the kind of books acquired. I don’t know if the majority of anthologies published pre-Elwood were overall of a higher quality than those published post-Elwood. And I don’t know if, should it be true that there has been a reduction in quality, that that is not at least in part due to other factors. Certainly Peter Nichols has suggested that “The general standard of reprint anthologies has dropped since the mid-’60s, probably because the vast backlog of SF magazines had been mined and mined for gold and not much was left”. It seems reasonable to allow that there might be other factors.
All of that said, there seems little doubt that Elwood wasn’t a good thing for the field, that he at the least acted unprofessionally, and that had a long-term effect on the psyche of the field. Which is unfortunate. It’s hard not to feel that every time someone asks for a gimmick for an anthology, or someone asks for more marquee names on a book, that the ghost of Elwood isn’t somewhere in the room.