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...