November 14, 2009
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.