Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What's Making Me Grind My Teeth Today

Alex Remington in the Huffington Post:
Once upon a time (really just a decade or two ago), it seemed you could buy almost any title with any sort of wide appeal, no matter how hifaluting, no matter how thick, in a format called "mass-market paperback"...Nowadays, however, more and more literary books are foregoing the mass-market format for what's known as a "trade paperback,"
A) Despite what he thinks, 'twas always thus.

2) See "wide appeal," above. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: a mass-market paperback is an implicit contract between the publisher and the reading community. The former agrees to publish a cheap edition; the latter agrees to buy a lot of copies of it quickly. If the latter is unlikely to happen, the former won't, either.

iii) He can't spell "highfaluting," either.

And he goes on:
But this means that the democracy of the least expensive books, once a mix of high and low and the one place where Jonathan Kellerman and John Updike could sit side by side, is fast becoming the exclusive province of genre fiction. High literature now comes exclusively at high prices.
No, genre books come out in trade paper, too. But only the books that will sell well enough to justify the format come out mass-market. If you literary types don't like that, you need to get more people to buy the books you like.

Oh, and then he says this:
In other words, the only universal fiction is non-literary fiction. That is not necessarily a good thing. Nowadays, people of different backgrounds follow different books, different magazines, different websites, different cable news channels; where there is no common experience, there is no shared truth.
Right. Because, in the glorious days of yore, vast numbers of Americans read William Gaddis and liked him. Go and pull the other one; it has bells on it.

Universal fiction is only very rarely "literary" fiction at the time. It may be studied a hundred years later, and become literary fiction, but it wasn't at the time it was universal.

And he goes on from there, whining that $18 novels are out of the budget of poor downtrodden working folks. Since we just learned that the Americans who read books only read about seven a year, we can thus deduce that Mr. Remington thinks $126 a year is far more than those poor souls can afford. And that just over $10 a month is beyond the means of folks that typically spend $3 each morning on coffee drinks.

Do I also need to note that sales of hardcovers and trade paperbacks have increased over the last decade or so? (And that mass-markets have been stable at best?) And that there are plenty of ways to get books cheaply (remainders, used books) or even free (libraries)?

What we have here is a very large amount of whine squeezed out of very few grapes, with little in the way of facts to confuse the issue. I think Mr. Remington is really saying is that the books he wants to buy cost more than he wants to spend. And, for that, I have the world's smallest violin, playing a sad song just for him.

3 comments:

Pamela Milkweed said...

What about a book like THE HISTORIAN? That was the top selling debut of two years ago, and it has never been put out in mass market. Why? I suspect because it's perceived as a literary book.

On the other hand, some of James Patterson's books are now coming out in $14.95 trade paper now, such as his popular murder club series. No one would accuse Patterson of being literary.

I'm just grateful that LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA came out in mass market paperback. And at $6.99 no less!

Joe Sherry said...

Pamela: I don't think the Historian not being out in mass market is a reflection of "literary", I think it might be a reflection of sales. If it sold that well in hardcover, and then sold well in trade paper there is no reason for the publisher to release in mass market.

An example of a non-literary book would be The Davinci Code. It remained in hardcover for two years I believe before a paperback release because it sold so stupidly well that there was no reason to publish in mass market or trade.

Andrew: Even that 7 books the average reader is reading per year may not reflect all in sales. Library usage may be factored into that.

Alex said...

Highfaluting is also known to be spelt "hifalutin." I thought I'd just split the difference. Sorry.

I don't drink $3 coffee in the morning, and I don't like spending $20 on a book. Somehow it seems like a lot. To paraphrase the Dude, that's just, ya know, like, my opinion, man.

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