Friday, July 11, 2008

Still Playing the Zero-Sum Game

I read a blog post today which really annoyed me. I'm not going to link to it because it's not that particular writer who's the problem; this was just the last breeze that pushed me over the cliff. There are plenty of people trodding this well-paved path, and I'm not going to point a finger at the person who had the bad luck to be the most recent traveller.

Everyone knows the frustration of having their own favorite kind of book (or anything else) fall from favor. A year ago, or a decade ago, the stores were full of your favorite read and you could wallow around in it as much as your wallet could bear. Then later on, the market changed, trends wended their way onward and suddenly the abundant flow narrowed to a bare trickle. We've all been there, and yeah, it's upsetting.

Why is it, though, that whenever someone complains about the problem they're having finding their own favorite kind of book, they do it by ranting about how there are "too many" of whatever other type is currently popular? Instead of just saying that they wish there were more books about lawyers and bankers, they grouch that there are too many books about vampires and pirates, implying that most of this trash should be cleared away to make room for the good stuff.

As someone who likes vampires and pirates (or whatever) I find this rather offensive. Why do people who complain that there aren't enough of their favorite books always come and attack my favorite books?

The writer who set me off allowed as how it's acceptable for there to be "a few" of these other books that she doesn't care for, the historicals and paranormals and fantasies and SF books, so long as they're unique and well-executed. (By her own standards, I assume.)

Wow. Generous of her. I'll have to remember to send her a thank-you note for declaring it allowable for me have "a few" of my favorite subgenres to read, and for looking out for my reading pleasure by policing the quality of those few books.

Personally, I'm not at all into media tie-in books. I used to read some of the old Trek Classic novels when they first started coming out, but I drifted away long ago and never got into any of the newer series novels, nor any of the D&D novels or the novels based on computer games or anything else of that sort. And yet tie-ins are... [squint/cogitate] I think it was three shelf sections of the SF and Fantasy area, when I was in a Borders last week, and maybe four. That was at least a third of the entire space allocated for SF/F books, and I wasn't interested in any of it. The situation has been the same for quite a number of years, tie-in books having become more and more popular over the last three decades or so since I first noticed them.

It's never occurred to me, though, to complain that the store shouldn't carry so many tie-ins, nor that the publishers shouldn't publish so many. If there are people who read them, that's enough reason for them to be published and sold. What I want are more of the kinds of books I do like. If I can't find them in that bookstore, then I'll find them in another, or at Amazon, or somewhere else online. If there aren't enough being published then I can complain to the publisher (or just rant to the blogosphere) that there should be more. But I'm not going to point my finger at the media tie-ins, or any of the other genres or subgenres of fiction I'm not interested in and say, "There! Give me their space in the bookstores and their spots on your publishing schedule! I don't like those books, therefore you should dump them and publish/sell my favorites instead!"

I mean, seriously, that's just obnoxious, you know?

I get what it's like to want publishers to sell more of a certain kind of book. My column on Wednesday was based on the idea that the New York publishers should be selling gay romances, that there are plenty of readers who want them and the publishers could make some good money selling them. But it never crossed my mind to point a finger at some other subgenre within romance that the publishers should sell less of to make room for them.

This really isn't a zero-sum game. If there are audiences for books about vampires and pirates, and for books about ranchers and doctors, then any financially sound publisher will be able to publish both without eliminating either, given a few years to work up to it. Having more kinds of books, all of which sell, is good for the businesses, as well as being good for the readers. And if there are more books being sold than the bookstores can carry, they can build bigger stores -- bookstores the size of Borders or B&N didn't exist when I was a kid, but someone along the line decided there were enough books being sold to justify building them -- or they can sell online. There you go -- room for everyone.

I really hope the woman whose blog post got me going today gets more of her own favorite kinds of books. If she likes more "normal" romances, grounded in reality and telling stories about the kinds of people she might know herself, then that's cool and she should be able to read as many as she likes of those stories. I can hope the publishers do start selling her more of them soon because I know that they can do that without having to eliminate the romances about vampires and aliens and mages that I like to read. It's not a zero-sum game, and we should both be able to have what we want without trying to stamp out each other's favorites.



Travis Erwin said...

Book snobs are everywhere and they irk me as well. In this day and age we should all be glad that there are so many books still being published period. Sometime those so-called trash books are paying the bills making it possible for other things to be published

Charles Gramlich said...

You're right about it not being a zero sum game. And Travis is correct too, that there are a lot of book snobs around. It seems almost everyone wants to put down some other genre, as if that builds up their own preferred genre. I never do this either. Some kinds of books I don't read because the subject matter doesn't interest me, but I wouldn't put down the writers or readers of that genre.

writtenwyrdd said...

Book snobbism indeed. Stupid argument. An argument like that is like saying "that's not music! back in my day..." Like my grandparents hollered about rock and roll, and like I've caught myself starting to go off about rap music, the rants against a certain subgenre of book are silly. People like them, so they sell. That's the reason booksellers are in the biz, isn't it? And there's always the used book market and libraries.

Spy Scribbler said...

Weird take on it. (I mean, the other writer.) That's just weird. Why should I care what else is in the bookstore? I've never complained that they had a medical section, or a computer section that's HUGE, or too many military thrillers or whatever. That's just weird.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Now that's a good rant!!! ;o)

Seriously though, I always go into a bookstore and think "too much I want to read!" and wander out having spent too much money. I'm just happy we have such a surplus of good books that I have yet to read out there.

Angie said...

Travis -- definitely snobs. [nod] And so often, the snobs have little or no actual experience of the types of books they're putting down.

Charles -- I agree. I think pretty much everyone has entire genres of fiction they're not into, and subgenres within the genres they do like; it's just the way things work out. That's no reason to put them down, or the people who write or read them. It's just annoying, and makes the person doing the trashing look bad.

WW -- LOL! You're right, it's exactly like that. :D My husband rants against rap music and I tease him that he sounds just like our grandparents when rock and roll first came out. I don't care for most rap, but every now and then I'll run across a rap song I really like. But then, I'm the same with country/western; it's not a matter of newness, or of musical legitimacy or whatever, but just personal taste. [nod]

SS -- exactly! Why should anyone care about what's on those other shelves? Except that this person seems to think that those other shelves are hers, and should have her favorite kinds of books on them. Entitled much...? [sigh]

Ello -- oh, no kidding! If I let myself go, I'd regularly spend the mortgage payment and then some, between Amazon and the e-book publishers and the brick-and-mortar stores around. There's definitely enough out there to be dangerous, and though there are certain genres and subgenres I'd love to see more of, I'm not in any danger of running out of reading material any time this millenium. :)


Bernita said...

Well said, Angie.

Angie said...

Bernita -- thanks. :) It makes sense to me, and to you and to everyone else here. I just wish the rest of the world would figure it out.