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JE: One thing we hear at Three Guys a lot (usually from women) is how refreshing it is that we offer four very diverse (but all very “guy-ish”) perspectives on the literary and publishing landscapes. We deal mostly in the currency of literary fiction, which is a market overwhelmingly dominated by middle-aged, college educated women. Why is this? Why is it most of my dude friends stopped reading fiction in college? In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve made over thirty (you count ’em, thirty!) personal appearances at book groups for All About Lulu. On average these groups are attended by anywhere from eight to twenty-five women, and they’re almost invariably gracious. But I’ve yet to see a single guy–once or twice, a nervous husband in the foyer with two leashed dogs, trying effect his escape before the wine and cheese hits the table, but other than that zilch. If the novel is dying a slow death, how can we get the male readership back? We’re talking about a huge, untapped market, here—how do we reach them? Personally, I don’t think price wars are going to do it. I think there’s a certain type of story that’s gonna’ win these readers back– one where something happens!

JR: This price war is total bullshit; a way to get the dwindling reader into the store, and gives retailers a chance to get into Ma and Pa’s pocket, it’s a buzz thing, and a scam. Who the hell is going to read Sarah Palin’s mashed potato life? Is Glen Beck the co-author? $9 for hardcover, for how long, what happens when the discount period ends, Dan Brown for $30? Are women readers reacting to books in an insightful
way, more so than men, is it the nurturing effect? So now what do male readers actually read, Under the Dome, the hardcover version of the Simpson movie? Cut the time a hardcover is on the shelves to 6 months. Promote the trade paper, sell it, and get it into hands faster/easier,move backlist to downloads or POD. (check out Harvard Bookstore, and their Espresso Machine for books) The latest entry into the download world is something that sounds vaguely pornographic, but it will compete with the Kindle, both still pricey. Lower advances, increase royalties on the trade paper, use the internet as a tool to promote. Book publishing is offering a high class/priced product to the middle class, and wondering why it’s not selling.

JC: I disagree that the so-called price wars are bullshit. I think that the way the industry develops is fascinating. Publishing got itself into a rut, magazines, books, newspapers, and this is a seismic change. Whether for better or worse, of course is yet to be determined. I was reading Scott Esposito’s bit on Conversational Reading the other day, where he mused about the European price fixing of books, and I wondered — what will be the results of these two philosophically opposed views of bookselling? Will the indy bookseller be better off in a price-stabilized environment? What about the consumer? My MBA says that price-fixing is a pox on the free market, which is bad. (Really. It says it right there at the bottom of the diploma in little gold leaf calligraphy.) But does the reader lose more in knowledgeable recommendations, service and communitarian (they’ll take that degree away, they will) values than they gain in price savings. As a dedicated reader, I say yes.

But I really wanted to talk about guys. Why the hell don’t guys read like women do? Anyone who reads this is probably closely tied to the publishing community, or certainly has a vested interest in it, so you probably know some, but once you get outside that circle, it’s hard to find the casual male reader. So what gives? Is it the lack of male reading role models? Obama sold some books when he gave out his summer reading list, but — and we’ve considered this before — the charismatic writer, the cowboy living on the edge, the Mailer and Hemingway and Kerouac, even, is gone. We’re stuck with Dan Schmuck Brown. That’s a sad inspiration, my friend. Is the missing man the result of a massive industry wide marketing and editing misfire? How do we get them back? I believe only Dennis has the answer.

DH: I’m the gay guy on Three Guys with three straight best friends. The problem isn’t with the books. It’s with the guys. Since the age of Hemingway, guys have been in denial about feelings. As for the subject of marriage, most guys don’t want to read about it. That’s because a lot of guys think marriage should look like something out of Lucy and Ricky. As for the price wars, every bibliophile should get a bargain on a book once in a while. But I worry that if you get your art on the cheap, then the respect that should flow both ways between the reader and the writer runs dry. Something would have to be done then, to restore that respect. That might not mean higher prices but some other form of shared sacrifice. My rules for better book clubs: All books selected should have been published in this century. Make your book club into a great date night if you want 20-somethings to attend. If you want guys, free beer wouldn’t hurt. Maybe guys would be attracted to books by the idea of shared sacrifice. Think of what writers, booksellers, publishers and readers have to sacrifice. Let’s talk about that sometime. I can testify that all four Three Guys know what sacrifice is. We’re a band of book brothers.

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3G1B is the collaboration of four friends and colleagues in the book business. Together, they review books and stories, interview authors, and maintain an ongoing conversation about publishing, bookselling, writing, pr, and nearly anything else.

JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here and TNB's Executive Editor. He likes rabbits. He also likes being the ambiguous fourth guy in the “Three Guys” triumvirate. He is the founder of the secret society, The Fiction Files (if he told, he’d have to kill you). He has a website, but it’s old. Just google him.

DENNIS HARITOU has bought books for Barnes and Noble for seven years, for warehouse clubs for five, and has led a book club. He is currently Director of Merchandise at Bookazine.

JASON CHAMBERS has been in the book business for over fifteen years, including tenures as General Manager/Buyer at Book Peddlers in Athens, GA, and seven years as a Buyer and Merchandise Manager at Bookazine. He now works as an bookstore consultant and occasional web designer.

JASON RICE has worked in the book business for ten years at Random House in sales and marketing and Barnes & Noble as a community relations manager. Currently he is an Assistant Sales Manager and Buyer at Bookazine. His fiction has appeared in several literary magazines online and in print. He was once the pseudonymous book reviewer Frank Bascombe for Ain’t It Cool News. He’s taught photography to American students in the South of France, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, and for a long time worked very hard in the film & television business in NYC. Production experience includes the television shows Pete & Pete, Can We Shop ( Joan Rivers' old shopping show), and the films The Pallbearer, Flirting With Disaster, and countless commercials---even a Christina Applegate movie that went straight to video.

14 responses to “Where Have All the Guys Gone?”

  1. Tony DuShane says:

    As a man who reads a lot of novels and fiction, I’ve never joined a book club.

    After reading this piece, I plan to join one and see how it works.

    BTW, love your blog.

  2. Tony, the group 3G1B book reviews are the closest to a book club that I’ve ever taken part in, but I can see why it appeals to a lot of people. It could be a great social and sometimes intellectual interaction. I would imagine a lot depends upon the group you join. Some, like the group at Brookline Booksmith always seem to be reading relatively current, sophisticated books; others might be less satisfying. I’m sure other commenters can enlighten us.

  3. josie says:

    People read for escape AND for a sense of adventure. There was a time when the written word was the only Xtreme sport in town. Then came movies, actual Xtreme sports, and literature’s biggest competition for men’s attention… video games.

    Do you know how much video games cost? It’s definitely not a money issue. If you want to woo men back to books you’re going to have to sweep them off their feet the same way women get swept away between the covers. Adventure for men is miles from what women find exciting. How to sweep a man off his feet and still be able to survive in a market funded by women… there’s your real challenge.

  4. D.R. Haney says:

    I wrote about this subject in my TNB self-interview, which will hopefully see the light one day. For now, however, I’d like to crib a little from it, though I may be repeating what’s been said already.

    It seems to me that the publishing world has written off the male reader to some extent, as Jason more or less suggests. The numbers indicate that women read fiction, so fiction that appeals to primarily, or even exclusively, to women is what’s accepted and packaged. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I go to a bookstore and look at the new-fiction shelves, I almost never see titles aimed at guys like me — educated guys reared on literary fiction that reflects their experience, or their wished-for experience, as per Josie’s remark about adventure. Creating a readership isn’t simply a matter of quality writing; what’s also necessary, I think — especially in this, an era that focuses heavily on image and personality — is a sense of commonality and/or admiration. Hemingway owed much of his following to his uberman glamor, however false it may have been, just as Kerouac and Bukowski and Thompson owed theirs to their ballyhooed status as rebels.

    But that particular kind of rebel has passed out of fashion — or has it? All of the above named writers continue to be read, even by guys in their twenties, who are obviously said to read nothing at all. Do those writers have no heirs? And if they exist, or if they did, would they find their way into mainstream print? I can’t help but wonder if those in publishing circles have a distaste for what, for the purposes of this comment, I’ll refer to as machismo, which they associate with sexism and related p.c.-isms — and in many cases, I’d be willing to bet that they’re unaware of their bias, if it in fact exists, thinking themselves endlessly accepting and open-minded, as I’m afraid liberals self-deceivingly do. (I consider myself strongly liberal-leaning, for the record.) This bias has a parallel in the movie business, where high-testosterone leading men are almost exclusively imported from the U.K. (including Australia and New Zealand). When Colin Farrell first appeared, I noticed a number of profiles that introduced him with: “He drinks! He smokes! He fucks around!” So does every guy I know, I thought, but those guys largely weren’t represented by American screen actors. An “exotic” accent is a kind of excuse for alpha-male traits, as if Hollywood were saying, “It’s okay if he scares you a little, because he’s a foreigner and doesn’t really know any better.” Americans are easily frightened these days, as they apparently weren’t in the time of Clark Gable.

    I also think recent trends in education are potentially culpable. College enrollment for men, at least in the U.S., is down, and liberal-arts majors of either sex are increasingly rare. Still, anyone who’s taken a literature class in the last few years will report that female students far outnumber the males; and in general, we’re approaching a class division that, bizarrely to me, is halved according to gender, with culturally astute women to one side and doltish, philistine men to the other. Will women be happy with this arrangement, once it’s become, as it already is to some extent, the norm? I personally think it’s in their best interests to require signs of intellectual life, as they apparently in volume do not. Men and women alike will invariably take the necessary steps in the romance and sex departments. Reading? Yep. Guys’ll do it if girls expect it — or do you think all those enlightened men of yesteryear were in no way thinking of the power of the mind to attract?

    There’s more I could say, but this comment is already long. Still, it’s obviously a subject that interests me. The novel I recently published was written very much in the hope that it would be read by guys, because I frankly don’t see many others writing with them in any way in mind. This was not, to be be clear, my first and only goal: I love women and greatly value them as readers. But I don’t think the guys have been well served in recent years, and I, for one, would like to breach the gap and, if possible, help to restore balance.

    I’m writing these remarks in haste, so apologies where I’ve generalized and so offended in a discussion that calls for nuance.

  5. jonathan evison says:

    . . . great comments, all . . . duke your comments remind me of a post we did awhile back at three guys called “where have all the cowboys gone?” which you can see here:

    http://threeguysonebook.com/where-have-all-the-cowboys-gone

  6. josie says:

    Great comments “all”?!
    I don’t even get my own response? Way to cater to the guys J.E.

    :p

  7. Lenore Zion says:

    i’m not a man, but i read like one, and i want books that read like they were written by a person who was raised by wolves.

    i hope that helps.

  8. jonathan evison says:

    oh josie cat, i’m a bad bad boy . . . i only had time to answer one comment between diaper changes (baby’s, not mine), and since duke’s was 5k words long, i felt he should get priority . . . as it turns out, baby wasn’t even poopy, but we took a bath, anyway . . . i really don’t subscribe to the women are from venus and men are from mars reading paradigm . . . i feel like a really well written narrative where SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS (and it doesn’t have to be a helicopter chase) will appeal to men and women equally . . . perhaps guys require a little more tension because of their video-game shortened attention spans, and maybe they prefer to read about guy characters, because deep down women scare the hell out of them, and they’re afraid to penetrate the female mind too deeply because it might stir up those pesky nuanced emotions . . .

  9. josie says:

    Hey diaper-dude, that comment was totally worth waiting for… :^)

  10. Kimberly says:

    I guess I’m spoiled. I’ve lived in two of the ‘bookiest’ neighborhoods of New York: The UWS and now Park Slope, Brooklyn. If ever I’m caught without a book in my bag (or worst-case scenarioThe New Yorker) *I’M* the one who feels like the nerd.

    I forget that there’s a whole ‘nuther world out there. Thanks for reminding me how good I have it, ‘Three’ Guys…

  11. jonathan evison says:

    . . .no wonder garfunkel is always waxing on about new york, as he stares doe-eyed at paul simon . . .

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