walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Transition to eBooks: literary fiction

I continue to avidly read about ebooks, however, I don't post about them very often because the rhetoric and so forth is kind of repetitive. Here is one new (to me anyway) development. (It was going to be two, but I'm moving the other one to a separate post.)


One of the standard arguments for physical books and physical bookstores involves "book discovery" and supporting new authors and so forth. In the past, when genre readers were limited to mass market paperbacks shelved separately and refreshed erratically towards the middle of the store, genre readers were accustomed to being ill-treated by employees of the bookstore. Our tastes were mocked openly and we were frequently told things that we knew to be completely untrue and generally not helped. There was a brief period in the 1990s and thereafter when publishers "suddenly" discovered that genre authors could move hardcover product, so we could then find some of our choices in the front of the store -- but book store employees were still overwhelmingly focused on serving readers of "literary fiction", which they all insisted was NOT genre fiction. Also, somehow better, despite its frequent, conspicuous lack of an identifiable, enjoyable, much less driving plot.

Hey, I'm just here for the story.

Not all bookstores were like this. University Books in Seattle long had a fantastic genre buyer for science fiction/fantasy/horror/etc. (but they screwed romance readers like every other new bookstore) and organized genre author events -- sometimes off site at the university if the author was expected to draw a really big crowd like Neal Stephenson or Terry Pratchett. And that's why Seattle didn't have a specialty bookstore for sf. In other towns, the same niche is occupied by a specialty independent, and romance readers, well, they broke out into hardcover at around the same time as sf and sold even more handily -- but get even less respect by bookstore employees.

I know. I read both genres. I've seen what happens to me when I'm shopping for one, or the other, or shopping the "front" tables for "respectable" non-fiction, which gets a small section of the space mostly dominated by the kinds of fiction my mother-in-law reads (also my book group).

Philip Jones, in this piece, notes that literary fiction has stayed print dominated longer than other fiction. Heretofore, that's been a good thing -- but not any more, now that the volume of sales has shifted from hardcover to ebook. He describes how difficult it is to identify literary fiction in an online bookstore, now that it doesn't have that coveted table space at the front of the shop. Mr. Jones has a pretty strong opinion about the relative value of genre fiction vs. literary fiction (hint: he doesn't prefer genre fiction). And he's not all that positive on readers who prefer to read ebooks ("If one assumes that even digital readers want to read the more serious stuff, then there is an opportunity here to bring up the better books." -- that "even" has a strong whiff of contempt to it, now, doesn't it?).

I'm wobbling on this one. On the one hand, oh, woe, literary fiction readers: the club you didn't want anything to do with turns out to not really give a shit about you, either. On the other hand, seriously, literary doesn't move product, so if you want this handled better in the competitive world of ebookselling, you're probably going to have to pony up if you want better treatment.

If I hadn't found the article so fascinating for its novelty (WOW! Literary fiction _wants_ to be sold online! I wondered when that would happen.), I would have dismissed it with a go-fuck-yourself. I may post about the next few instances of this phenomena -- but then I'll ignore it like I ignored book-huffing for months until it became so rare as to, once again, be notable.
Tags: e-book coverage
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