Friday, April 17, 2009

The Shirley Temple Effect

It seems that our crummy economy will have a negative impact on our most beloved pastime: reading. That's right, folks. The chief financial officer at Barnes & Noble predicted that book sales will fall between 4 and 6 percent this year.

The good news? (Yes, there's good news!) Romance sales are apparently on the rise. In a recent NY Times article, Motoko Rich reported that the first three months of 2009 saw a 2.4 increase in romance sales. In 2008, romance sales rose 7% after holding steady for four years. And these numbers don't even take into account the books sold at discount chains like Wal-Mart or Target.

The silver sales lining actually extends beyond romance novels. Other industries getting a bump include: chocolate, garden seeds, fast food, and condoms. Make of that what you will!

Of course, my interest is in the increased romance sales. Our genre's popularity is actually raising a few journalistic eyebrows. In addition to Rich, the trend's been followed by Misty Harris at the Vancouver Sun, who mostly discusses renewed academic interest in romance. Both articles are definitely worth reading!

Of course, there are a few reporters who can't resist jabbing at the genre even as they report its successes. Has anyone else noticed this? The underlying snark? It's not too hard to read between the lines when a reporter proudly states that he/she never reads romance novels... and then launches into a critique of the fact that they're "formulaic," "overwrought" or "underdeveloped."

I can't help it. It bugs me. I also have to wonder: where does a self-proclaimed non-romance reader get the authority to dismiss the entire genre?

True, I've read some "overwrought and underdeveloped" romance novels. But I've also read "overwrought and underdeveloped" crud in every other form of writing. Do people dismiss general fiction as a whole after reading several self-indulgent, navel-gazer novels?

I think not.

I also think, as the economy continues to... wobble... that it will grow increasingly difficult to "poke fun" at romance novels. Our genre's popularity will increase. Why? For the same reason that Shirley Temple was such a hit during the Depression: people need a way to set their stress aside, and she was dimpled and cute and uncomplicated. Believe it or not, FDR actually said that "as long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right."

I don't know about our whole country... but I do know that romance novels keep me in an "all right" state of mind. My already stressful teaching job is much worse now that I have to beg, borrow, and steal basic office supplies. It's nice to know that I can unwind with a guaranteed happy ending. Romance novels: the modern Shirley Temple!

If you're also blogging about the economy, please link to us so we can take part in the larger discussion! What do you think? Are romance novels the new Good Ship Lollipop? Or maybe you just want to tell us about your creative use for garden seeds and condoms...


Vivi Andrews said...

I love that romance is selling well (and I'm not surprised because who doesn't love a happy ending?), but it bugs the hell out of me that every reporter who is covering this story feels the need to quietly (or not so quietly) mock us even as they marvel at the popularity. Grrrrr.

Anneliese Kelly said...

Thank God for the ambassadors of our genre, right? Really without exception, every romance novelist I have met has been smart, witty, professional, and serious about what they do. If interviewing people like them doesn't make journalists pause in their ill-formed assumptions about the genre and its practitioners, nothing will.

This is a world that is by women and for women, and I'm so happy to be a part of it.

Serena said...

I'm happy to hear that one segment of the publishing world is seeing sales!

Carolyn Jean said...

Great post!

I think it's cool romance sales are up. Sure, it's partly the economy, but I like to think it's the evolution of the genre, increased acceptance from lovers of books, and the explosion of subgenres. I feel that romance and its subgenres are a site of intense excitement and creativity.

And I have to say, dismissing something or someone based purely on stereotypes is ignorant prejudice in my book.

Theresa said...

I couldn't agree more. I read romance novels for the happy ending.

Kristie (J) said...

I was talking to my sister and sons recently about this - how bad the economy was but one of the bright lights was the increase of sales of romance books - I've started becoming remarkably (for me) outspoken lately about my passion, but alas none of them were impressed - the cynics. But I am!! It just proves what we romance readers have know all along, that in tough times there is nothing that will make you feel better and momentarily escape the harshness of real life better then a story of love conquering all.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I'd add Dancing With the Stars to that list! ;)

And yay for romance!

Lesa~Dragon said...

Well said!

I should have been diggin into my romance section lately, I bet things would have been easier to dig out of with a little romantic sip from reality.

Yeah Romance!

Ladytink_534 said...

I would suspect that more people would want to be lost in a book during this time? I guess I can see where romance novels (and YA novels that have romance in them) are the new Shirley Temple but I'm actually watching the old films and it's a great stress reliever lol.

"But I have to wonder: where does a self-proclaimed non-romance reader get the authority to dismiss the entire genre?" Amen! It drives me crazy when people just make up their mind without really taking the time to discover what they're criticizing.

SSrb1098 said...

Check out this youtube channel dedicated to Shirley Temple: