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Books, food and happiness

I had planned a very different post for this spot but instead I'm putting it on hold and, knowing me, probably means I'll never get back to it. It was an expansion of my previous post about assuming people want to live inside the books they read, and it was supposed to cover everything from the discredited canard that romance readers are starved for love to the idea that Joe Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin's readers are nihilistic cynics with a taste for depravity--or that reading a book about a "chosen one" reveals a yearning for authoritarianism(!)

But I don't want to write about that. It's too contentious, too disjointed and, frankly, too close to the subject of my previous post. (If only I'd thought to label that other post "part 1".)

Instead I'm going to offer a short post with a video embedded. Here's the preamble: We've all noticed there has been an explosion in subgenres. It's not just science fiction, fantasy, and horror anymore. It's paranormal romance, new weird, mundane sf, urban fantasy, MilSF, space opera, fantasy of manners, psychological horror, and so on and on. Not all these labels are new (several are very much not new) but there are more than I ever remember. Our books are being marketed to us differently.

Why? I'm not a publishing insider, but I think I know where it came from. In the 1970's and early 1980's, food researcher Howard Moskowitz completely changed the way food was sold to the American people, and those changes spread out into the world and into other industries.

Here. Watch this short video. It's a TED Talk in which Malcolm Gladwell tells Moskowitz's story, it's under 18 minutes, and it may change the way you think about books, food, and happiness.

If you can't see the embed, here's a link to the TED Talk page itself.

This is why we have so many kinds of mustard and tomato sauce on our supermarket shelves, and I'm convinced this is also why book marketers (who after all are in the business of getting a book you will like in front of you) have continually been creating new subgenre categories.

Now, the industries are not completely the same. You can't create a novel in a laboratory kitchen, where you can vary the ingredients to find the ratio people like. Books are works of art. However, if the incentive is there to find a more precise label, they'll do it.

Another difference between books and food is that some of the new subgenre labels have come from the audience itself. They name for some new thing--too often by putting "-punk" at the end of a word--and that becomes the new flavor, the new genre.

Another important point from the video is that consumers do not always know what they want. This isn't exactly a revelation to readers, who are always discovering unexpected pleasures inside book jackets: Did I know I wanted to read a mash up of James Bond, Office Space, and HP Lovecraft? Hell no. But I did, very much so. I mention it because it's something that should be said often. Readers don't always know what they want. We should be trying new things constantly, just in case we come across our new favorite flavor, and good writers create the niche they will occupy.

Finally, I close out with this quote from Gladwell when he was talking about upscale and downscale condiments.

"Mustard does not exist in a heirarchy." Meaning, we all have variable tastes, and none is objectively superior to the others.

What do you think? Is it a revelation? Complete BS?

32 Comments

1:

One day Gladwell will talk about something I know a lot about, and then I'll have him. He does talk a good talk though.

2:

Another TED-talk that this made me think of. Might not be completely relevant to the point you're making, but worth a mention.

Sheena Iyengar: The art of chosing

Has to do with how many choices we are faced with and how that makes us feel. She also uses different types of soda as examples.

3:

"De gustibus non est disputandum"

Matters of "taste" are SO variable.
I LURVE Opera (when it's well-done)
I shall be priveliged (AND PAID, as well!) to be in the middle of the chorus, as the "permanent political prisoner" when they open up at the ROH, in their "Greek Colonels" production of "Fidelio" on 29th March, and they begin:
"O welche Lust, in freie luft den Atmen, Leicht zu heben;
Die Sonne am meine Brüst, oh welche Lust ...."

But, I know Charlie can't get his head around it.

I LURVE mackerel, properly cooked - my wife doesn't.

So it goes.

4:

About "living in the books one loves" - isn't that what Fforde's Thursday Next series is about?

5:

We should be trying new things constantly, just in case we come across our new favourite flavor, and good writers create the niche they will occupy

And that's why I like going into my not-quite-so-local-anymore (I moved) SF&F bookshop in Edinburgh.

I've been buying books from Mike for over 25 years, and he gives good hints and tips - it's nice to get a trustworthy opinion from someone who can actually say "well, you might want to try W" or "if you liked X, why not try Y". Or, "I didn't enjoy this much because of Z, but you might".

Is this the future of bookshops? As niche/boutique operations which are more about the operator than the content? I can buy from Amazon, but I prefer instead to do a quarterly spree in Transreal...

6:

that's kinda what a good record-store is/was about (haven't been in one in quite some years now) (where "record" = vinyl of course). Small shop, guy in there who knows you and what you maybe like, he'll tell you "just got this in, here, listen to _that_!"

What with living in a german-speaking country in a small town I never had a book-shop like that cater to me and therefore experienced amazon as a revelation and deliverance from the arrogance of bookshop-ppl in my town who thought of SF as pond-scum and even more so in English. "what's that, William Gibson? Never heard of him .. we can order that for you. it'll take about 3 weeks *piercing stare over glasses*"

7:

"O welche Lust, in freie luft den Atmen, Leicht zu heben;
Die Sonne am meine Brüst, oh welche Lust ...."

ouch ouch ouch.
..in freier Luft den Atem (without the n)..

Die Sonne an meiner Brust...

HTH.

8:

As Martin says in #3. It's some years since, but I had a local bookshop who's owner took the trouble to get to know her regulars' tastes, and recommended them "different authors" based on what they liked and she'd read herself. In one extreme case, she sold me a book by a local (to us) author on Friday afternoon, I started it that night, and was on her doorstep as she arrived to open the next morning to buy the guy's other book.

9:

I wonder a little how much that sort of bookselling relates to Amazon, and if it's like comparing a mail-order clothing catalogue with bespoke tailoring.

10:

HM, I don't disagree. Instead I would like to make a recommendation, rather than only watch that 18 minute clip I would refer you to Adam Curtis excellent documentary series Century of the Self. The BBC will never release it on DVD so you errr... have to look around the web.

In fact you would do well to watch all of his other series which amount to a fascinating history of life in the 20th century.

11:

"Readers don't always know what they want. We should be trying new things constantly, just in case we come across our new favorite flavor, and good writers create the niche they will occupy."

Thank you for making such a great case for supply-side economics.

12:

Whilst a local bookshop owner that knows your tastes and can recommend good books vs the faceless profit-driven corporation is a quaint idea that appeals to a hankering for a world-that-never-was I have to say that Amazons recommendations have always steered me to find new authors that I love.

Counting it up theres only a couple of authors in my top 10 that Amazon didn't recommend all spawning from when I bought my first Alastair Reynolds book nearly a decade ago from a waterstones and looking for more on Amazon.

13:

1) Read the comments; there are 2 of us (in 12 comments from 10 usertags) who've given personal testimony that that sort of service did/does exist in small bookshops (we're talking the owner and maybe A N Other as total staff) that you shop in regularly. So that sort of service does exist.

2) How many "bat's @rse" suggestions has Amazon given you? At any given time, I have about 3 items in my Amazon "not interested" list for every one in my "I own this" list. Ok, they're not all "bat's @rse" items, but the bookshop owner is likely to achieve a 90% hit rate on sales from personal suggestions against Amazons 33%.

14:

I'm not doubting that it does happen, merely responding to the

"comparing a mail-order clothing catalogue with bespoke tailoring"

comment. My amazon has a much higher success rate than yours seems to, it just took me beyond my first 20 or so suggestions to find one I wasn't interested in. The only downside is that it does not know what I own from elsewhere. I don't think the clothing catalogue statement is fair and though I agree a human with a personal touch would be nice it's not unique to human staff to give good advice.

15:

Bullshit.

It's a shock to a good biologist that a natural perceptual distribution is multi-modal?

That's seriously the claim, that it took Moskowitz years to have this brilliant flash of insight -- that just possibly the distribution of responses is a complicated non-Gaussian? This is "brilliant"?

Bullshitting bullshit. Market segmentation occurred in the late 20th century because it became economically possibly -- technology and production had hit the point where you could distribute 20 different kinds of pepsi's without driving yourself insane. That's primarily a function of information technology -- you can have more complicated production processes without losing benefits of scale because of computers, you can have more complicated distribution systems, you can track the money better, you can have more complicated advertising. That all comes from 70s and 80s technology, and not some flash of insight about "happiness".

It's about making money -- market segmentation means higher profits by reducing the tendency of consumers to exchange products by price. I guess you can define that as "happiness" with the product -- but it seems like begging the question, the USLibertarian tendency to reduce happiness and freedom to economic preference.

Sure -- fitting the distribution of goods to distributions of preferences is "good". But that's not the driving force -- and those preferences aren't somehow "out there", distinct from the social and economic forces that partly drive those forces.

Gladwell is a bullshitter -- give a nice oversimplified story to push a meme. That's fine when you're a fiction writer -- but when you're claiming that you're selling facts, how things actually happened, that's grade A bullshit.

16:

anura kind of beat me to it... I deserve it for writing comments in a separate notepad, but here goes...

Okay, so the TED talk is interesting, though the guy is kind of excessively glib and therefore annoying... but what's the point you are trying to make?

I mean surely, there wasn't ever some little-known literary scientist specialising in reader satisfaction who made the surprising discovery that people don't have a single favouritest mix of literary merits or dimensions or whatever... and that wacky boffin was never initially the laughing stock of literary producers, i.e. authors, and his ideas were never later put into practice by some enterprising author (or author's collective?), only to find that they actually worked, and authors did never then convert to the creed en masse and began diversifying their literary output...

I doubt if the guy's characterisation of "old-school" food science attitudes towards differences of the palate is correct, but in literature, anyway, I think the view that there is a well-defined set of categories within literature and within each of those, objective rankings can be drawn up has not been seriously advanced in quite a while.

As for trying new things... I think people with serious reading habits have been aware of that, and practicing it, for some time. You don't need to know that the book in your hand is say "existentialist suburban vampire-ninja-punk" in order to notice that it is new. "Weird-niche-market-punk" in the food industry required (I'm guessing here!) cheaper production of production equipment, computer controlled production equipment, more wealth to spend on food, better logistics, better sales tracking... but it has been the norm in literature for at least a good hundred years.


Which leaves me with a proliferation of genres and subgenres - still in need of an explanation.

I'd say the number one factor is that the amount of fiction being produced is going up. More people can afford to do something unproductive (immediately unproductive) with their time (and this goes for reading and writing).

Secondly, in our alienated culture that leaves most of its individuals with a fairly large set of only vaguely assimilated but conflicting value systems to get by with when they stumble into adulthood, achievement of a grounded sense of self through categorisation is in vogue.

Thirdly: the bottom is falling out of the publishing system (I know, publishing a book takes a great deal more than just writing it - but the other specialities, i.e. proofing, design, etc., can all still be practiced without the corporate structures that were essentially the result of structural scarcities). So people in the industry are scrabbling for added value. Niche marketing is one such attempt.

But to be honest, I don't remember a single book I read because I liked the subgenre-labelette stuck on it by some marketing guy in publishing.

As for Amazon recommendations: I'd be interested in the experience of others. My experience is that if a book seems good based on the other books linking to it and the audience response, then there's a chance it will be quite good - but a significant number of times I find myself wondering why. Mind you, I sometimes wonder at things recommended by real booksellers, or even friends in the very same way.

17:

Got to say I think holist and anura have nailed it. (#15 and 16.)

It might have been a shock to a psycho-physicist, but polymodal distributions are the norm in so many forms of biology, starting from the simplest one of "what's the commonest height of adult humans?" Obviously there are two - one for men and one for women, but if you do the same experiment in different countries, many countries have different modes for each gender from the local one to you too - consider Japan, Western Europe and the Masai for example. So the idea isn't really radical.

And like holist, I suspect the number one reason for the proliferation of sub-genres is population size. That's not only human population, that's the population of books in genres too. The detective story has been around for what 150 years, the fantasy story for around 100 years as a recognisable genre rather than the odd experimental piece. They appeared then because the literacy levels were high enough and book prices low enough that you could have a lot of books being read by a lot of people. As soon as you get into that boat you start seeing classification, fundamentally because humans are wired that way.

We like the ability to pigeon-hole and label things. You can argue (in a fairly convincing but post-hoc fashion) that the ability to pigeon-hole rapidly is one of our evolutionary survival strategies. Is it a surprise that we label and categorise fiction like we label and categorise knowledge (science and the humanities, then biology, physics, chemistry, then botany and zoology, then...) and using that as an analogy we tend to add new categories. Sometimes the old ones get subdivided (science into biology/chemistry/physics) and sometimes the old ones get thrown out (biochemistry and genetics for example, both transcend the botany/zoology divide that used to work so nicely, biochemistry sprawls uncomfortably across the biology/chemistry divide too).

We're seeing the same thing in our fiction. It used to be "stories" then we started getting genres. We got to SF/Fantasy/Horror being relatively stable for a while. Some people deliberately wrote between genres in the niches (Charlie's Laundry novels would be a case in point I suspect.) Some wrote stuff that appealed to them more - Vampire stories set in a modern world where there had to be some method to elude modern police work. Oooh look... horror-detective cross-over idea. Vampires + police, why not add witches, werewolves, faeries, demons... and when it works and takes off you've got a new sub-genre that used to be dark fantasy and is now urban fantasy or maybe paranormal romance (it's splintering again!).

Last thing before it turns into a complete rant - the publishing industry, even today in its current straits, operates differently to the food industry. Publishers don't go out with a hundred different types of SF books and try to cluster them to meet need. Rather they try to publish good stories that are sent to them and classify them to make it easy for us to find similar stories that we might like (and then buy.) We, the consumers, don't want a "when's your Dolmio day?" reading experience; even from the same authors we want variety. When we pick up a new Laundry novel we want Bob et al but we want a new twist, a new story, with some familiar characters and concepts. When, mentioning no names, book #12 in the series is basically indistinguishable from #9 (baddies come to town, the heroes shag each other or them and then beat them and are made stronger by it, only the names of the baddies are changed) we stop reading.

The publishers may respond to our tastes by accepting more books in popular genres (teen-angst-vampire-stories anyone?) but it's a much more after the event rather than leading the event thing. That may change but I won't hold my breath.

18:

What the hell does a bookstore providing good service have to do with a failed economic policy?

19:

I knew I would get pushback by linking to an Malcolm Gladwell speech. There are a lot of people who dislike his work but I'm not terribly bothered. Unlike Jared Diamond, he's a journalist and is doing pretty good journalism.

Anyway, we have a snowstorm moving in to our area and I have to go to the supermarket before that, so I'll be quick.

Roger A #2: Thanks for the link. The nice thing about TED Talks is that one leads to another and two hours later you wonder where the time went. It's like a brainier TVTropes.

Till #4: Absolutely. And while I know those books have a large and happy readership, I disliked the first one very much and never went further.

Martin #5: I have a local independent shop that I like very much, but only to recommend books for my son, not for me. They don't read sf/f, don't understand it, and often say to me "I gave your book to my son!" (sigh)

Gav #10: Thanks, I'll look that up. I keep hearing about terrific BBC shows that ought to be on DVD.

Ryan #12: I have to admit that I have never once bought a book through the Amazon.com Recommends feature. Maybe I'm missing out, but I never impulse-buy from them. All my impulse shopping is done in brick-and-mortar stores

anura #15: You're talking about changes that made an explosion in choices possible, while Gladwell is telling the story of why the decision makers realized it made business sense. They're not mutually exclusive. Also, I think you're seriously underestimating the ability of pre-'70's companies to manage their inventories.

holist #16: As I said in the original post, books aren't created in labs and tested by focus groups. The many subgenres we have now aren't created from the top down to the same degree, but they're performing the same service. Also, I think the subgenre labels themselves encourage experimentation among readers. Finally:

But to be honest, I don't remember a single book I read because I liked the subgenre-labelette stuck on it by some marketing guy in publishing.

I'm calling straw man on that.

Eloise #17: You make some good points (although I think your "human height" remarks are off base) and it's true that we have a lot more writers than we used to. People often cite the laser printer as the culprit, because people wouldn't have to retype a whole page (or whole chapter) with each revision. Just insert/delete/whatever a few paragraphs and hit "print".

Also, many years ago (at least ten) I'd read an interview with a publisher (Tom Dougherty?) in which he cited a study showing that there were more readers now, not fewer, in part because the stigma of wearing glasses as readers aged had gone away, so people no longer stopped buying books as they aged. That was a long time ago, though, and I don't know what the current numbers are.

So it seems only natural that there would be splintering in the marketing, and publishers, who by virtue of their business model can't do a lot of focus group testing (nor would they want to) have to follow the sales rather than anticipate them.

But what triggers that splintering--essentially, the human story behind those decisions--is what Gladwell's talking about. I think he's telling an interesting story and I don't find it any more reductionist than others here suggesting it was a matter of technological changes divorced from the people doing that work.

Okay. It's nearly 10 am my time and I should have left an hour ago to do my shopping before the snow gets here. I'll check back again later to see how completely wrong I am. :-)

20:

On the "we should be trying new things constantly" point... I'm reminded of another way in which we people are different from one another.

I hear that argument with respect to music all the time. "You should give more music a chance, you might find a real gem."

What I've observed is, that argument just doesn't work FOR ME. Why? I've found that I when I am listening to music I dislike, the experience seems to be *much* more negative for me than it is for my peers who've made that recommendation. By trying to comply with their advice, I've discovered that I'm much more concerned with *avoiding* music that's *bad* than with *discovering* new music that's *good*.

So if by "we should be trying new things constantly", you mean each of us should ourselves be constantly experimenting... no, not all of us.

Now, I do still discover new music. I just don't tend to do it by listening to a lot of music myself. I *know* people who listen to a wide variety of music, and I sometimes discuss music I like with them. And they conclude "well, if you like so-and-so, you should give such-and-such a try". There are a few individuals with whom I've had enough repeated successes that I'll give anything they suggest in seriousness a listen. I just can't trust most other people when they make this kind of suggestion, though -- often, I'll not only dislike the music they ask me to listen to, I'll actually end up regretting that I ever gave it a chance to begin with.

(Another example of this is movies: I gave "The Phantom Menace" a try, and hated it to the point where I wished I had never seen it. Likewise episode 2 -- yes, the "Yoda Versus Dracula" fight was fun, but I ended up thinking my life would have been better if I'd never seen the movie at all. Finally learned my lesson, and have not given episode 3 or "the clone wars" a chance.)

I unfortunately don't have any sources for new literature that are really reliable for me. I'm not quite sure how to go about addressing that problem.

A long time ago, Amazon's recommendation system did work for me, but now it's "polluted" and popular stuff always drifts to the top. It's taught me not to trust the software anymore. Don't just base recommendations on *finding* what I might *like*, also base them on *avoiding* what I *dislike*, and further, please focus more on the less popular choices that aren't already being shoved down everyone's throats. (Yes, yes, I *might* like popular things in the end... but almost by definition, I won't have a problem finding them. Point me at the stuff I'd otherwise have a problem finding, please.)

21:

"But to be honest, I don't remember a single book I read because I liked the subgenre-labelette stuck on it by some marketing guy in publishing."

I can think of lots I haven't read though based on the subgernre-labelette

Re Amazon - I set up an account a couple of months ago and went through rating a whole bunch of books I'd already finished. As far as I could see the recommendation system was mostly throwing up the popular big name books for various categories -even when I'd rate a different book by the same author lowly or not interested - worse still I don't think it managed to throw up a single author I wasn't previously aware of. The final annoyance was getting different books in the same several series occupying much of the top 25+ recommendations.

22:

He's spouting complete nonsense, when it comes to dating this big change and assigning responsibility. Systematic user studies (which actually look at what customers really do or really like instead of just asking them in focus groups)go back nearly a hundred years depending on the industry involved.

When you're talking about the way food was sold to the US masses the big growth in the types of products available (from a single specialist producer) goes back to the spread of huge supermarkets in the 50s.

I remember, back in the 60s, reading amusing texts, by Brits, French and other Europeans who would say they were shocked (or stunned or horrified) by the absurd amounts of diverse choices of bland (to their educated palates) apple sauce (or tomato sauce or whatever) they could find, filling an entire aisle in one of those monster sized US supermarkets. But while user studies and variety are not new in the food marketing world they are still new in other industries.

Now, the fun thing about how this relates to modern books is that Amazon, the first digital bookstore in the world, the biggest bookstore in the world, does not do user studies. Oh, they do look at where the clicks go and they tally up the trends over the seasons, and so on, but they never go out there to actually observe customers using their site, or (as is more usual with the biggest commercial sites) get some Web-savvy humans in Web usability labs and have some psychologists and Web usability experts observe them, and later on do some post-test interviews.

Amazon does its Web metadata (including categories for books) by looking at sales results but never at sales psychology. As a result it's really trial and error most of the time, and they muddle through and make a lot of profits in the end because of their sheer size in the market and becasue of their constant expansion into other new domains.

I'm not sure about Barnes and Noble but I get the impression that they don't do user studies either. But they can survive because of their tie-in with their bricks and mortar stores.

23:

It's easier to spell "hierarchy" if you remember that it means someone is "hi-er" (higher) than someone else.

24:

"But to be honest, I don't remember a single book I read because I liked the subgenre-labelette stuck on it by some marketing guy in publishing.

I'm calling straw man on that."

I didn't realise we were playing for points... all I meant to say is that I think the intricate categorisation is, at least partly, a marketing ploy aimed by publishing marketeers at the industry, rather than by the industry at readers - and that it was not working with me.

"I think he's telling an interesting story and I don't find it any more reductionist than others here suggesting it was a matter of technological changes divorced from the people doing that work."

But has anybody actually complained about it being "reductionist"? I must have missed it. My problem with it is that it is sensationalistic and (it increasingly appears) false.

25:

Music: the proliferation of web radio has been very helpful. I for one have found Radio FIP, a French, mostly music station that hardly ever plays anything I object to (whereas most radio sations I can listen to in the analogue fashion do, very regularly), and I keep discovering new music through them because, very helpfully, they keep displaying the data of the track just playing (and two before and two coming up).

Books: a method of triangulation has worked before: try and find someone (google) who raves about two or three books that I like very much, and which are very different. Then, check other books they like.

26:

Harry: You're talking about changes that made an explosion in choices possible, while Gladwell is telling the story of why the decision makers realized it made business sense. They're not mutually exclusive. Also, I think you're seriously underestimating the ability of pre-'70's companies to manage their inventories.

But the idea of "niche marketing" goes back to the founding of mass marketing back in the '20s. The change that has happened over the last fifty years is how much niche marketing could actually be tied to niche products.

There was a proliferation of cigarette brands with different flavor varieties going way, way back, focused on women, men, teenagers, children, and so on, tied with specific marketing campaigns.

That was all known back in the 20s. The limitation wasn't the idea -- the limitation was handling the inventory, distribution and production. Cigarettes have fewer production and distribution steps than a soda, a car or a book -- so it was more effective there earlier. (Remember Ford and his black car of any color to see how aware folks where of this issue back at the beginning of the century).

That's why this is bad journalism (even if it's a good story). The context is all wrong, as if that entire history didn't exist, as if our entire consumer lifestyle didn't reach back into the battle between communism, fascism and "consumerism" before WWII.

It's also a more interesting story.

27:

anyone remember attack of the killer tomatoes?
when there were some deep operatives eating with the tomatoes, at a campfire
one of the dummies said pass the ketchup!!!!!!!!!!!

28:

Gravenimage, you already have him (MG) if you know what an eigenvalue is. The google will explain.

Having said that, I think the xkcd comic about mythbusters applies similarly to MG. Just the fact that he's exposing people to science as it relates to society is a mitzvah compared to most pop culture. Does he use anecdotes in place of evidence? Does he extrapolate minor findings to grand proclamations without justification or validation? Does he swallow his primary source's claims whole without applying basic journalistic scrutiny (see Myrvold, Nathan)? Yes to all, but it's still a step in the right direction.

29:

I like Charlie's posts, but I'm going to have to go read your blog now, because I like your topics. :)

None of the sub-categories are new as types of fiction. A very small percentage of the names assigned to them are new, like mundane SF, but they're just new names for what we already had, and mostly we like to go back to old names like urban fantasy from the 1980's. These proliferation of names is also not a new thing for SFF fans -- they love to make up more and more sub-category names and always have (other fiction fans do too, but not to near the same extent.) Witness that ever since cyberpunk, people keep trying to attach the word punk to other words.

These names are not usually made up by publishers, though publishers will try to use them if they catch on. They are usually made up by authors and magazine editors who want to carve out focus on a small group of authors to distinguish them in the marketplace. New weird, mundane sf, urban fantasy, space opera and fantasy of manners (only the first two are recent,) were all invented by authors. Fans talked about them and one of them emerges the winner as the most common term bandied about, although alternative terms others came up with will also be used (i.e. epic fantasy, secondary world fantasy, alternate world fantasy are all the same thing.)

This is what happened to cause us to have urban fantasy revived as a term. Contemporary fantasy got a boost in expanding its audience from a brace of bestselling authors, so then we had lots of names thrown about for the "new" trend -- supernatural fantasy, vampire fantasy, paranormal fantasy (that one got tossed as paranormal romance became the term for fantasy romance,) etc., and people revived urban fantasy, which beat out the rest over a two year period.

So what is new?

1) The massive expansion of the SFF audience over the last 15 years, from YA to horror. These readers are often attracted to bestsellers, so when there is one, they're like, what's that type of fantasy called? Um, supernatural fantasy, no urban fantasy! More and more terms get bandied about. Also, category romance was looking to add to its audience and so went from a little SFF romance into a full blown publishing program. (So that is a marketing thing.)

2) The increase in SFF scholarship. SFF is now firmly established in high school and university curriculums. Lots and lots of writing is being done about SFF, its history, its movements, etc. And when something gets studied, it gets parsed into lots of sub-categories.

3) The Internet. In the last ten years, the Internet went from developing public technology to established global domination. Instead of sporadic conversations about SFF at conventions and magazine articles once a month, there is now a continuous stream of conversation and writing about SFF going on among fans, writers and to a lesser extent publishers on the Internet. Essentially because fans and writers are talking more about SFF with each other, they are indulging in their passion for making up new names even more and fans are more likely to hear about all these terms on the Internet than they were before.

30:

From a purely personal viewpoint - I call shenanigans.

Segmentation and personal taste have *always* been with us. It was there in the local competing restaurants. In Philly there is a longstanding 'cheesesteak war' over which cheesesteak is better: Pat's or Mick's! In me opinion, neither... but that's is entirely the point! They both exist, and have diehard 'fans'!

Sports - every school, every town, every little opportunity for tribal identity and difference was fostered through *your* team -- Hibs or Hearts, Celtic or Rangers, United or City, Mets or Yankees!

Clothing -- I don't know about you but I notice many 'sub populations' with regards to 'tasteful/non tasteful', 'appropriate/inappropriate' -- and not all of those stem from geography or economic segregation.

Segmentation is what we do naturally - we are inherently tribal. Why is it a surprise that our tastes are tribal too?

31:

Clothing for me is generational -- I wear tie dye tops with matching pants. I have a lot of purple pants.

32:

Re Gladwell, I think I'm in the camp that says that's not exactly how it happened, but it's in the right direction, and maybe it'll prompt people who are interested to read more about it and find out how it really happened. (Unfortunately, I was a child during the period of time he quotes, and so I can't rely on personal experience to examine alternate theories like "of course it happened for some types of food then, prior to that there wasn't room in the stores for that many varieties."

Re Amazon, I find that its recommendations are either look-what's-popular like many of you do or completely lacking in common sense, particularly with respect to video games. (Example: I bought Rock Band 3 for the 360. Recommendation: a drum set for the PS3. What good will that do me?) I also suspect that over time, their system has been changed to suit some VP's ideas instead of to provide good suggestions.

And that is what I think will keep local bookstores arrive even as the era of giant brick-and-mortar bookstores seems to come to an end. (Electronics stores aren't faring much better ...) Unless you are the type that has to have a book nownownow (and in that case, a Kindle, nook, etc should fill that need, or at least an account with Amazon), it's hard to beat quality recommendations from people who know both books and you. It doesn't even have to be an owner or a cashier or whoever; sometimes it can be someone as mentioned above who's read some other books you both like. If certain friends recommend something, I add it to my list; if other friends recommend it, I wait for someone else to suggest it. (Same with movies and music ... OTOH I had a bad feeling about the Star Wars prequels and never saw them, and I feel pretty good about making that decision on my own.)

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This page contains a single entry by Harry Connolly published on February 23, 2011 7:07 AM.

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