Thursday, July 8, 2010

Irrelevance


This recent post from Jason Sanford gets to the heart of something that has bugged me for years, and he gives a great example of it by pointing to a micro-press lit mag which says in its writer's guidelines: "Unsolicited submissions must be accompanied by a receipt for a hardcover or paperback from a real-life bookstore." The rationale for this piece of douchebaggery is: "We believe that there are more people who want to be published in literary magazines and small presses than there are people buying these magazines and books. This program is not meant as the solution. There is no one solution."

There's a lot that's wrong with this. Sanford, in his concise rebuttal, points out that not everyone lives near a brick-and-mortar bookstore. This is not only true, but getting truer by the day. A couple weeks ago, I needed new glasses and I had an eye appointment and bought new glasses at the Lenscrafters store in the St. Louis Galleria, the biggest fanciest shopping mall in the St. Louis metro area. While I could give a fuck about 99% of the contents of the mall, I figured I could at least pass the hour while I waited for my new glasses to be made browsing in the bookstore (or, at the very least, wander into Abercrombie & Fitch and gaze at wall-sized photos of comely half-naked youths). I vaguely remembered that they once had two bookstores in that mall. I figured that wasn't true anymore, but I thought the crappier one of the two still existed. But no. This gigantic "upscale" shopping aneurysm that is the Galleria has ZERO bookstores in it nowadays. Not a fucking book or magazine to be found anywhere in all its square mileage of retail valhalla. Oh, and there's not even an Abercrombie & Fitch either! And this in a mall that has north AND south locations of Sunglass Hut AND Sunny Shades (not even counting their in-store kiosks within the anchor stores). I was so freakin' bored, I made phone calls. Phone calls! I couldn't even go browse in the Apple Store because it was iPhone pre-order day and the whole place was under the control of Imperial Stormtroopers.

But I digress. The real point is that times, as usual, are changing. A lot of people never lived near a bookstore in the first place. A lot of people have seen their nearby bookshops vanish. And a lot of people (like me, for example) who do have some bookstores nearby (though not in the Galleria) often prefer the convenience and selection of the online retailers. People can piss on Amazon and B&N and the ebook publishers all they want, but the existence of these things has made more authors' work more available to more people than what was ever possible in earlier decades. People who live in the backwoods of Idaho or Manitoba can read the same stuff that someone in New York City or London can nowadays, and that was absolutely not true years ago without a lot of work and expense on the part of the person living in a remote area.

But this is all a sort of side issue. The real problem is that there are simply not enough readers of any kind anymore. In the US, the percentage of the population who buys and reads book is tiny (single digits). And of that tiny wedge of the population, the percentage that reads fiction of any genre is incredibly small. And of those who read fiction, the number who are reading "literary fiction" in "literary" journals is smaller still. Smaller to the point of being virtually non-existent outside of the literary and scholarly types who themselves would like to write and publish such fiction. This probably sounds familiar to any genre editors who wish more people would buy their zines. Ever wonder if we're doing it for anyone other than other writers and editors? So, in the genre press, we have this problem as well, and we are way more popular than the "literary" zine press. It's pretty discouraging, and I'd love if the lit mags would find an answer to the problem, but I think the problem is too big and they're too small. And getting smaller all the time. Making writers send receipts showing that they walked into a "real"  bookstore won't stop the shrinkage.

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2 comments:

JWS. said...

Amen!

Nicholas said...

'S true, and a wee bit depressing. A few years ago, I thought we would be seeing an upswing in spec-fic popularity as all those millions of Harry Potter fans grew up. Where'd they all go? They just never transitioned to short fiction, I guess.

Ozment

 

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