Chix ‘n’ Boox


My friend Elizabeth Scanlon Thomas sent me this Salon piece and asked if I had any thoughts on the subject. Dudette, I got thoughts on every subject. So for the first time in YOU AND ME, DUPREE’s storied history, I guess this one’s by request. Be careful what you wish for: I think I’m going to wander a bit in search of illumination.

Do women read more books than men? Do little girls have more noses in books than little boys do? In general, yes, that’s correct, but that still doesn’t explain why machers in the book-publishing industry tend to be female, as the guy who tried to get the wrestling book past his editorial board learned. (Um, dude, female publisher Judith Regan did the first WWF autobios more than ten years ago, before that editor’s nephew could even read. I’m just sayin’.)

Once upon a time, book publishing was indeed an old-boy-network, in the days of Bennett Cerf, Alfred Knopf and the like. As in all other contemporary aspects of American business, the guys called the shots. They were the editors and agents as well. Partly this was because of the notion of the idyllic nuclear family: dad went to work, mom stayed home and kept house. World War II changed most everything, as (a) many women filled slots in the workplace left by departing soldiers, and (b) the book business transformed itself. We’re not sure exactly who made paperbacks a mass medium. Some say Allen Lane, who founded Penguin in 1935; some say the Pocket Books imprint, which came along in 1939; and I say Ian Ballantine, who, while in charge of getting Penguin titles into the U.S., helped stuff the pockets of GIs with free, easily portable books and created an actual demand when they returned home, now hooked on cheap reads. (As a dealer might say, the first taste is free!) And Ian was ready for them: in 1945, he co-founded his own company, Bantam Books. He once told me that he wanted his corporate symbol to be a bird which could tear the hell out of a penguin, and they don’t come much tougher than a bantam rooster. It’s important to note that back then, “pocket books,” which you probably know as “paperbacks” and the industry refers to as “mass market editions,” were exclusively reprints. The first “paperback original” didn’t appear until 1950.

In the meantime, women were moving up in the publishing ranks. They’d often migrated from the secretarial pool into the “subsidiary rights” department, which was responsible for selling the rights to publish translated editions, to serialize or excerpt in magazines, etc. It was comparatively rather clerical work, and the big shots couldn’t be bothered. But “sub rights” income gradually became more and more important to the decision of whether to buy a book at all, and if so, how much to guarantee the author. The women who ran these departments acquired “horse sense” – which is, after all, nothing more than experience, and they were negotiating every day – and they could read a P&L every bit as well as a man. This made the best of them ideally suited to join the next generation of publishers. Also, the industry did – and still does – attract very bright women fresh out of college clutching English or liberal arts degrees, whose boyfriends or spouses (if they were ever part of the picture, and increasingly they weren’t) might be considering law, medicine or finance. Such people had more post-grad study to do. The ladies could hop right in to the work force. This annual influx, now most assuredly of both genders, helps explain why book publishing salaries are notoriously low compared to other forms of entertainment: there’s a never-ending torrent of capable people willing to work cheap. Hey: it’s show biz.

By the time I got into book publishing, more than twenty years ago, this shift was not just under way, it was maturing. Women were the publishers at Warner (the president was a guy, but the title “publisher” was held by a woman), Bantam, Doubleday, Dell, NAL, Putnam, “little Random” (that’s the Random House imprint, as opposed to the massive conglomerate which owns dozens of other imprints as well), and more. In other words, your publisher was most likely to be a woman. At Warner, Bantam, Avon and HarperCollins, the four places of which I have any first-hand knowledge, the editorial staffs were each about 3 to 1 women. These days, there are probably more female literary agents than male: big ones like Suzanne Gluck and Lynn Nesbit are among the most powerful in the business.

OK, lots of chicks in this game. Now comes the big question: are they selling to mostly people of their gender?

A typical Book-of-the-Month Club ad. They were everywhere.

A typical Book-of-the-Month Club ad. They were everywhere.

There have always been plenty of independent bookstores in big cities, but not in the hinterlands. A smart guy named Harry Scherman, an adman, realized that the hinterlands may not have had booksellers, but they damn sure had post offices. For decades, a hefty chunk of hardcovers were sold through mail-order book clubs. The most prestigious was Scherman’s Book-Of-The-Month Club, which had half a million members by the end of WWII. Specialized clubs evolved for genre fans: science fiction, mystery, military, etc. BOMC sold the original trade edition and was thus the most expensive, but each club sent out a monthly catalog (later teased out to 13 times a year as business began to fall off) and employed Scherman’s brilliant, diabolical “negative option”: if you did nothing, you got that month’s main selection automatically – you had to mail a postcard back if you didn’t want it. Most of the genre clubs printed special hardcover editions to-order, all on the same presses and with the same trim size, and sold them at huge discounts. You might even have some on your shelves: on the front flap reads the legend, Book Club Edition. Libraries also subscribed to these clubs – toward the end, some of them existed only on library sales. At Doubleday, the most adept at selling this way, there was an active “Direct Marketing” department well into the Nineties.

Let’s pause here to note that genre fiction readers do tend to fall into predictable gender divides. There are plenty of exceptions to everything I’m about to say, but “hard science fiction” (i.e., firmly based on known science and then a “what-if?” idea inserted to upend it) has long been primarily read by males. Thus, the membership of Doubleday’s Science Fiction Book Club was predominantly guys for a very long time. Also note: when I refer to “science fiction,” I’m not counting the many media-tie-in books which rely upon previous familiarity with the source material and characters. Some people scoff at them, and I can’t really claim the high road here, since I supervised Bantam’s STAR WARS publishing program for five years. But that’s out there somewhere else: movie/TV fans are intergenderational. In the mystery field, “cozies” (think Miss Marple or MURDER, SHE WROTE) are enjoyed mostly by women, while “hard-boiled” noirish detective stories tip more to men. “Romances,” as you might expect, are titanically read by women – I’ve talked to a couple of male romance writers who use a female pseudonym, and they say the romance conventions are amazing! “Heroic fantasies,” a genre stated by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, were hugely male-dominated pre-teen power trips until a wave of Tolkien followers, some of them very talented female authors, reclaimed the forests and dells for distaff readers, and this trend continues today. Westerns, now usually called “historical novels,” have been in decline since Louis L’Amour died, but in their prime they were almost always read by men. These days, fantasy outsells science fiction (Harry Potter didn’t hurt), mystery probably tops them both when you add in “thrillers” and “police procedurals,” and romances are lapping the track while the others are still puffing along toward the first turn. There will always be fans of all these genres, but, once again, it’s the ladies who seem to be doing most of the buying. The latest turn, romance plus vampires, just cannot be stopped. “Paranormal romance” is the hottest thing going right now, whether you like it or not – because there are lots more people who do.

So why don’t you buy your hardcovers from Book-Of-The-Month Club any more? Attitude and convenience. There was a time when reading books, or at least having books in your home (once we publishers get your dough, we don’t care when, or even if, you actually curl up with your purchase) was considered an essential aspect of the cultured life. Can you remember when every department store – overwhelmingly marketing to Mom, mind – had little book sections, maybe with an easy chair and floor lamp to suggest how great these things would look in your house? Long gone, man.


Then there was the advent of megastores, led by Barnes & Noble (which kept flooding the country with mail-order catalogs during its great physical expansion). All of a sudden, there was a bookstore damn near everywhere – in the shopping mall or right next to it – and they were stocked with thousands of titles, many of them even discounted! The poor independent booksellers could only look on in horror; there was no way they could compete on price or scale, and their ranks have been decimated over the years (I’m using that term in the modern, not the Roman, sense: there are maybe a tenth of the peak-era independents still in business). If you’re lucky enough to live near a great independent store, like Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, my old haunt, for God’s sake shop there. But I’ll bet most of you won’t. Because now, it’s cheaper and almost laughably simple to order a book without even getting up from your desk. We’ll get to Amazon in a minute.

Have I strayed from the boy-vs-girl readership question? Not at all, grasshopper. The ubiquity of booksellers made the next phenomenon possible. Just as the movie industry is able to ring the cash-register bell by “opening wide,” or everywhere at once, so the book biz was now able to “lay down” a huge bestseller everywhere, discounted so you could afford it. The age of the “mass market hardcover” had arrived. Most were still sold to women, who devoured Judith Krantz and Danielle Steel and still do. But then came Tom Clancy. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER was an eye-popping paperback sensation (Ronald Reagan’s blessing didn’t hurt), and henceforth the Clancy heat was in hardcover. Selling to men! Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, guys were buying their books too, but now they were grabbing hardcovers off the front tables of superstores, refusing to wait for the paperback! As we’ve recently seen with Harry Potter and the TWILIGHT books, when lightning strikes like this it creates its own category and spawns lots of imitators. Clancy became the king of “military fiction.” Scott Turow, and then John Grisham, pioneered “legal thrillers.” The important thing was, you could sell hardcovers to guys too, and not just business books like MEGATRENDS!

Before this, hardcover publication was meant to legitimize a book, get reviews, and goose the auction for the right to reprint in paperback a year later, which was how you made your real money. Some houses specialized in hardcovers (for each title, the acquisition, editing, publicity, etc.), others in reprints and paperback originals. But authors and agents started demanding “hard/soft deals,” meaning you had to line up a reprint partner early and pony up a much higher guarantee. The age-old hardcover/reprint scheme largely collapsed under its own weight. In the case of THE EXORCIST, for example, Bantam actually found itself retro-licensing the hardcover rights to Harper & Row. The reprinters began tentatively publishing hardcovers as well, so that the full contractual arrangement could be under their direct control. Early hard/soft hits from Chuck Yeager and Lee Iacocca tempted Bantam to expand its “trade” list, meaning both original hardcovers and “trade paperbacks,” or softcover titles that are sold by the “book trade” in real bookstores, as opposed to the identically trimmed thrill-genre mass-market books whirring on spinner racks in truckstops and midsize airports. (I joined Bantam toward the very end of this fascinating transformation.) Others quickly did likewise, and today no major New York publishing house, not even Simon & Schuster’s “Pocket Books” imprint!, is exclusively paperback.

I don't get it now, I didn't get it then, but it helped pay my salary, so I sagely kept my frickin mouth shut.

I don’t get it now, I didn’t get it then, but it helped pay my salary, so I sagely kept my frickin mouth shut.

The hardcover numbers kept – and keep – rising. THE HELP, a female-centric book if there ever was one, has already done about two million units, with no movie and no paperback. Look out below when the movie comes out. I was at Bantam when Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME just frickin refused to fall off the hardcover bestseller list. It was the DARK SIDE OF THE MOON of books. Admittedly, that’s a good problem to have if you must have problems, but we had to postpone the trade paperback reprint for season after season: when would we finally have to kill the golden goose? (I don’t know if you’ve read Prof. Hawking’s book, but as a good Bantam soldier I tried, several times, and it’s so far over my head that said head explodes when I survey its huge bestsellerdom. Did millions upon millions of geniuses suddenly appear in America – BTW, if so, where the hell did they all go, LOL? – or was this the kind of book you bought and proudly shelved but did not actually read, shades of BOMC?) Wal-Mart sells books: in fact, they’re one of the big publishers’ largest customers, a fact that will surprise only those snobs who don’t realize that the largest US wine retailer happens to be Costco. Wal-Mart sells mostly hardcovers, but only the ones they think will blow out in middle America. Do you find that déclassé? To me, anything that gets anyone to crack open a book is a net positive. As I used to tell my assistants and any other lowlifes who were somehow forced to hear me blather, reading the absolute worst book we publish is still healthier than the alternative: zoning out in front of a video screen.

Am I straying again? Aah, I caught ya dozing, you little minx! (I’m assuming you’re female because boys don’t read so much, right?) Anybody who peddles entertainment is competing for your leisure time, which by definition is finite. We used to claim that a paperback book was, dollar for dollar, hour for hour, your cheapest form of entertainment. We can’t say that any more. You can roll a movie on your honking big screen from HBO or Netflix, you can surf the Web “for free” (consult your ISP about that), you can stare for hours at video games, and if you do the math, it’s very likely hour-for-hour cheaper than enjoying a current mass-market paperback. That’s one reason the mass-market portion of the business is now imploding. “Mass-market hardcovers” have to poach from sales and distribution of the downstream reprinters. Twenty years ago, we used to load out a million copies of our monthly mass-market “leaders.” Now, all the action is on the hardcover list, except when there’s a movie or Oprah involved.

Books are not a zero-sum game, thank God. Cars are. When you choose a Toyota, every other automaker loses one potential sale. But if you march into a bookstore for the new Grisham, you might see something else and buy it impulsively. In fact, browsing aimlessly in a bookstore is one of life’s great pleasures. All the other authors are just glad you’re in the store. This is where Amazon, another group of smart people, has managed to dig down deep.

The reason you take the trouble to crank up your car, drive to an independent bookstore, and probably forgo a big-box discount, is that the store is staffed by well-read people. Shop there often enough, and they’ll begin to infer what you like from what you buy. Before long they’ll have some suggestions for you, little gems you’ve never heard of. This is called “hand-selling,” and B&N has never figured out how to do it on a massive scale. Amazon has come much closer, even online. When he was mulling his theoretical business, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos attended a workshop led by Richard Howorth, who owns Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi (yes, Virginia, there are at least two world-class independent bookstores in Mississippi!). Thus did a superb independent bookseller, then battling the Great Satan of the big-box superstore, give a hand to what turned out to be the next usurper. Amazon was more than just the “first mover” in online bookselling (perfect for the new medium because unlike jeans, you don’t have to try on or even touch a book before you’re ready to buy it). It has swatted away all comers, including B&, because Amazon feels like an independent bookstore, only with superstore capacity. It simulates hand-selling by inviting customers to give their opinions, even negative ones. This isn’t yet as useful as being in a good indie store, because it takes random luck to direct yourself to a terrific book you’ve never heard of: since there’s no physical shelf, there’s no serendipity. But the algorithms which gamely try to do this for you, based on your previous purchases, are close enough for many people. And reading the comments helps reinforce what we’ve suspected all along, brought into the 21st century: there seem to be more women out there reading, or at least commenting.

An early clunky-ass Kindle. They are WAY better now.

An early clunky-ass Kindle. They are WAY better now.

More anecdotal evidence comes from the Kindle, Amazon’s e-reader. Disclaimer: any Kindle stats are suspect because they don’t necessarily reflect the marketplace at large – e-reader owners who did not get them from swag-bags are by definition more avid readers than most. But that would still presumably include a hefty chunk of the hooked-on-books market. And Kindle represents the ultimate lard-ass impulse opportunity. You don’t even have to turn your computer on, much less go to a bookstore, to be reading damn near any book you want in about one minute. (I’m referencing Kindle here because once again, the other e-readers are only playing catch-up. Even if you bought a fancy new iPad — good luck using it in the bright sun! – there’s an app which lets you buy and read through the Amazon Kindle store, which is far vaster than Apple’s.) I invite you to look at Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list. Click to refresh. Ignore any games and free public-domain or promotional copies: concentrate only on books which actually cost money. All book subjects and formats are now lumped together in one fairly volatile list. Notice what’s selling. In the e-age, the ladies are still the customers. (P.S. The previously linked list is dynamic. It changes constantly. You won’t see what I saw when I wrote this piece in May 2010. But no matter when you consult the list downstream, I’ll bet I’m still correct.)

E-readers have a built-in quasi-nihilistic coolness factor which might make them even more attractive than printed books to some wired-generation males. I sure hope so. Certainly they are a godsend to anybody who travels a lot and likes to read, and that includes guys. But remember: leisure time is finite. And as video games – which have already overtaken movies as profit centers; a blockbuster game takes in more money than a blockbuster movie, and every bit as quickly – continue to globalize and miniaturize, they siphon off more and more leisure hours from young males (by far their biggest demographic chunk). In short, now we are in a zero-sum proposition: when the d00dz are shootin’, they can’t be readin’. So the reading gender gap, from all I can see, is gradually growing even wider.

Reading for pleasure is a habit. I’m sure most of you are devoted readers, as am I. But if you’re like me, you’ve also gone through periods in which you burned through book after book, then one day something you read reminded you, “Jeez, I’ve never seen THE BICYCLE THIEF!” So you watch movies for a bit (nowadays you don’t need an art house to screen THE BICYCLE THIEF for you), or pay frontal-lobe attention to the new James McMurtry album instead of letting it go on uningested in the background, or, what the hell, maybe even murder a few orcs in WARCRAFT. It’s tough out there: the competition for your time is more intense than ever, and I think the resulting come-hithers are most seductive for young males, exactly the people the book biz needs to hang onto as the Harry Potter phenomenon fades away. Some folks wonder if books will fade away themselves. Don’t worry; they won’t. What I wonder instead is, will reading for pleasure fade away, or fall out of fashion? There’s but one army standing in the way, but it’s as formidable a force as has ever been mobilized. It alone can stave off the end of reading as fun. These are the selfsame ones who have been nurturing our love for books all along.

This force is called moms.

And Happy Mother’s Day to them all.

19 Responses to Chix ‘n’ Boox

  1. Al Harron says:

    ““Heroic fantasies,” a genre stated by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, were almost exclusively male-dominated pre-teen power trips until a wave of Tolkien followers, some of them very talented female authors, reclaimed the forests and dells for distaff readers, and this continues today.”

    This isn’t true for a number of reasons.

    First of all, to describe all heroic fantasy as “male-dominated pre-teen power trips” is a facile over-generalization that ignores the many stories which are nothing of the sort – certainly not Howard, who was nothing short of ahead of his time in his depictions of women. The Dark Agnes stories center around a female swordswoman actively rallying against the misogyny and chauvinism of her time, and they read like they were written by an angry feminist.

    Secondly, there was a notable distaff contemporary of Howard’s by the name of C.L. Moore, whose Jirel of Joiry is a candidate for the first fantasy warrior heroine – her first story appeared in 1934. Notably, this appeared in the same year of Howard’s “The Shadow of the Vulture” which featured Red Sonya (not to be confused with Red Sonja), who may have been an influence.

    So post-Tolkien female authors haven’t so much been “reclaiming” forests and dells, rather, they’ve followed the pioneering work of Moore and Howard in bringing women beyond their role as pulp cheesecake or venomous temptresses.

    Incidentally, “Weird Tales” – which Howard and Moore contributed to most famously – had a roughly 25% female readership. Obviously there was something appealing to the girls despite the lurid Margaret Brundage covers.

    • Tom Dupree says:

      Al, I did disclaim my genre generalities, and it’s certainly true that C. L. Moore pioneered a female protagonist (she’s far better remembered for her contribution to “Lewis Padgett”‘s output), but I think it’s a stretch to say Howard’s Dark Agnes yarns “read like they were written by an angry feminist.” Certainly in Burroughs, and *largely* in Howard, the protagonist is the fantastic projection of the overwhelmingly male readership (overwhelming even if you grant WEIRD TALES a 25% female base).

      But while accepting your well-stated argument, wouldn’t that only further the thesis that women are avid readers in *most* genres, and tend to read more than males do? The more women at the party, even where they might not be expected, the more firmly the point is made.

  2. Elizabeth Thomas says:

    Wow, thanks, Tom for that masterclass in the publishing biz.

    I think I will suggest more topics for you to post about —

    Thanks. I didn’t know any of that stuff.

    I’m waiting for the 2nd generation iPad myself. I’ve never had a Kindle but I buy tons of books from Amazon and end up throwing half of them across the room in frustration because they are no good.

  3. I really wish men would stop pointing out C.L. Moore as “proof” that ONE prominent female writers amidst dozens of men means sf/f was not a male-dominated genre for decades.

    I also wish men would stop pointing out her character Jirel of Joiry as “proof” that fantasy wasn’t dominated by male protagists for decades. That was ONE female action protagonist in a vast sea of male action protagonists for decades.

    BTW, the marketing strategy for my first sword-and-socery release by a major house in -1998-, decades after Moore and Jirel, was, “The author is female in a male genre.” (I know this because I saw it on the promotional cover flats, under the section header, “Marketing Strategy.”)

    Fortunately, urban fantasy has really changed things for women fantasy writers by bringing a large number of women readers into the genre. But in traditional sword-and-sorcery type fantasy, it is VERY hard to make the bestseller lists if your work doesn’t have huge appeal to young males. They are not the only audience for traditional heroic fantasy, but they are an audience without which is it VERY difficult to sell enough sword-and-sorcery to make The List–and many of them DO NOT BUY a book unless it features a =male= protagonist rather than a female one. (MANY men of all ages also won’t buy a novel written by a woman. One hopes that a generation of JK Rowling readers will not share that habit.)

    • Tom Dupree says:

      Laura, interestingly, that’s also why the few male romance writers employ female pseudonyms: they’re sunk if they don’t!

  4. I was a romance writer (selling fourteen romance novels under the pseudonym Laura Leone) before I was a fantasy writer. Romance is, as you note, hugely female-oriented.

    However, 1970s and 1980s bestseller Jennifer Wilde lost no popularity at all when it was revealed that “she” was a man named Tom Huff, and Huff (who died in 1990) was hugely popular at romance conventions, though the original supposition of publishers was that his identity should be kept dark. There was also a very popular husband-wife writing team in romance, Tom and Sharon Curtis, who used both their names on their covers. (I’m can’t recall if husband-wife team Tony and Lori Karyianni used their names on their books; they mostly write under the pseudonym Tori Carrington–but on their website and at conventions have always been very open about Tony’s identity.) Though writing under a gender-neutral pseudonym, Harold Lowery served as president of the Romance Writers of Amerca under his real name.

    My friend Ken Casper started his romance career under the name K.N. Casper, but has switched to writing romance under his regular name (Ken). So times are changing in romance, too.

    Outside the genre, I’ve heard it claimed often and with great authority by people who have no idea what they’re talking about that the romance genre is thick with male writers hiding under female pseudonyms. Er, no. There are and always have been very, very, VERY few men writing romance (in any give year, probably less than 1% of the genre)–and since, like every other genre, it’s a small world, we know who they are. Even if gender info is concealed on a book cover, it’s NEVER been treated as secret within the profession since Tom Huff turned out to be such a hit 30+ years ago. Even if a man writee under a female pseudonym, he’d have no reason whatsoever to HIDE from the romance-writing community, where men have long been welcome (and can even be voted president of RWA).

    • Tom Dupree says:

      I meant with their readership, not the industry. And note my disclaimer at the top of the paragraph: there are plenty of exceptions. But the feminine byline is overwhelmingly more popular than the masculine, even among the few male writers. Maybe it’s to promote the feeling of sharing intimacies with other women, but for whatever reason, it’s so.

  5. Neil in Chicago says:

    “algorithm”, not “logarithm”
    I see why A History of Time was so challenging for you.

    I am, though, grateful for the narrative. I had never really focused on how many successive trends in the publishing biz I’ve seen.

    • Tom Dupree says:

      Oops! It’s the *changes* in the industry that are logarithmic. But the great thing about a blog is that I can go in, fix it, and pretend it never happened! Or have I just ruined that possibility?

  6. David Pipgras says:

    Hey Tom! Nice work. I have to give you credit on pointing out the source of most of our reading habits — Mom. My reading experiences started when I was quite young and my mom let me read Dinosaur books to her (Oh, as I look back, I see she had the patience of a saint). My mom always let me go to the library and get as many books as I could carry. As I grew up (or at least got older) I found my favorite hang outs were Walden Books and B.Dalton’s –Places where I was on a first name basis with everyone.

    As I look over my various reading twists, I have to say that while my SF tends to the media (i.e. Trek, Wars, etc.) most of the best books I have read have been from female authors, such as AC Crispin, Diane Duane, and DC Fontana. of course I am leaving out a lot of people (Barbra Hambly, Kathy Tyers, Margaret Wander Bonano and Rebecca Moesta come to mind). I think I have read far fewer male authors (in the fantasy/SF genre).

    I was shocked to, by accident, discover my Dad was an avid reader as well — not that it was hidden, just that he worked long hours to take care of his family, that it was not something I got to see often. Louis L’amore (spelling?) was one of his favorites. Ironically I never read his books, but enjoyed the television series with my Dad (whom I have lost recently), so the memories are precious.

    I am torn on the whole Harry Potter/Sparkly Vampire stuff, as my opinions of them are less than favorable — I liken HP to a rip-off of a comic book, Books of Magic, and well, Vampire do NOT sparkle. Ever. I think these “fad” books don’t really reflect the readership — Twilight has sold a bazillion copies because of the market it plays to…and I am pretty sure Edward never rebuilt a 69 Mustang or even owns power tools.Both have been successful and successfully beaten to death.

    As for Amazon, great way to get cheap books, but I would rather wander a books stores finding stuff I had long forgotten about, but they serve a purpose. I think the EBOOK is he future for a lot of stuff — especially small publishers and authors who have great works to share, but would be too expensive, or too limited an audience to print by mainstream. Once and IF (not holding my breath here, based on the track record of the music industry) publishers ever figure out the long term possibilities of these tools, and stop thinking only about the short term profit loss, the likes of the iPad, Kindle 3 and others will open books to a far wider audience than ever dreamed.

    But anyway, I ramble…


  7. Heteromeles says:

    You know, I’m giggling while I read this. Why? Because the TV is on Discovery Channel, and they’re showing “Extreme Stars,” which followed “Alien Galaxies, and something by Stephen Hawking.

    My wife was happy to have these on. She hasn’t seen this before, but because I read Hawking’s book (and I’m not a physicist) this isn’t news to me.

    I’m giggling, because a major media corporation thought that something on the technical level of Brief History of Time was perfectly acceptable as public entertainment on prime time. If publishers think this is too erudite, well, that might be one problem with declining sales.

    Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with men vs. women, except that women classically have avoided the math, physics, and engineering sectors that find this stuff interesting. Personally, I think this is a matter of culture or prejudice, as I’ve known too many bright female engineers and physicists to think that women are in any way incapable of brilliance in these fields.

    • Tom Dupree says:

      Hold on: nobody thought BRIEF HISTORY was too erudite for a general audience. We pubbed it, didn’t we? I was only surprised at, and remain skeptical about, the *size* of this devoted audience. BRIEF HISTORY to me was like every book on quantum physics. I pick up QUANTUM MECHANICS FOR DUMMY KINDERGARTNERS. I read it *very slowly and carefully*. I’m following wave vs. particle and all, very proud of myself. I turn a page, and it says, “…so that’s how we can time-travel.” D’oh! That’s no reflection on others, just me, and books on that subject sell very nicely, thank you. I was also a little too self-deprecating when I wrote about BRIEF HISTORY. I finally did read it; whether or not I absorbed it is another issue. And I *still* don’t know why *so many* others, men and women alike, were fascinated enough to make it one of the great bestsellers of all, er, time. Or were they?

  8. nathan says:

    So TV killed the radio star? Or, WoW killed books with boys?

    Is it possible games and female influence are self-supporting assassins?

    Video games seem to thrive on genres that aren’t being repp’d as much anymore in books(not that they’re dead mind you): Survival Horror, fantasy that’s closer to old school Sword & Sorcery than Harry Potter or Twilight, SF that relies on Marvel Comic science vs. math equations (and BFGs, lots of BFGs) and, of course Commandos and Gangster.

    When I was a kid and I went to the bookstore there were a heck of a lot of Frank Frazetta covers out there for me to impulse snatch as a boy reader. Now those covers seem only to exist on Video Games.(and Laura’s right, S&S was written by males for males)

    And male readership declines.

    As an author my experience in selling seems to go better if the editor and I are sympatico–if we come from a commonality of reading. This doesn’t happen as much with a female editor, in my experience (and in magazines the effect is on ‘roids). If they’re my age chances are they were reading Marion Zimmerman Bradley vs. Karl Edward Wagner or RE Howard. I just sold a trilogy to a female editor so I’m not shouting conspiracy but…

    % female english teachers pushing “moving” (vs. exciting) books on teenage boys, % of female agents serving as gatekeepers, % of female editors purchasing books that move them until finally you arrive at % of boy readers dropping like empty beer cans at a frat party.

    And ta da! Video Games offering up those genres in spades. I think there’s something going on here that is a factor. Maybe not the biggest, but a factor.

    Also, in oder to be clear, I’ve oversimplified the case into primary colors but I admit to *feeling* like there’s something going on here that people don’t always feel comfortable acknowledging.

    However, I do agree, video games always would have hurt readership as they grew more complex, involved, and cheap–and I found your blog excellant reading, thank you.

  9. Jim Johnson says:

    Great insights, Tom, thank you for posting them. One related item I’ve found interesting (and it may just be a regional thing) but the vast majority of bookstore managers I’ve worked with or met have all been female as well. In my younger days I worked at a number of bookstores, chain and otherwise, and all of the top- and mid-level managers were women.

  10. Steve Perry says:

    Astute as expected, Mississippi.


  11. Fantastic article, thanks.

    *goes off to think about how to write vampire romance*

    (not really, but …)

  12. Another place where the big publishers are currently hurting themselves (though I understand they’re in a Catch-22, and don’t have a lot of great options in this e-revolution) is by raising the prices of ebooks. One of the things that could help get more men back into reading is if enough of them pick up high-tech ereading devices, as you suggested. But when ebooks are under $10 as they used to be (ideally, even much less than that, like $2-$5), it’s easy to justify that instant ebook purchase. At $13 … not so much.

    • Tom Dupree says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Whenever you make it costlier and/or harder for customers to buy your product, you are risking sales and needlessly hurting your business: that’s just Marketing 101, or maybe in this case it’s Marketing For Dummies. For more, see:

      • Tom, conducted a survey recently about ebook prices. Check it out, if you haven’t seen it.

        It showed that the price at which 93% felt a new ebook price was “too high,” was at $11.23. If those results are in the ballpark, it suggests that the agency model pricing is at a level which nearly everyone thinks is too high. Of course, that might be precisely what the publishers are going for.

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