Wednesday 18 November 2015

Are Target Audiences Holding Books Back?

It plays to the favour of the folks in the publishing industry, as well as, of course, the retailers and the authors, to have a definite audience in mind when they're busy flogging the latest bestseller. But does this favour the reader? Or does it limit the sort of book we end up buying, reading, and, ultimately, enjoying?

The Covers

We've all heard the saying 'you can't judge a book by its cover.' But we do, don't we? Because a lot of the time, you can.

If the cover is bright pink, has a bit of glitter, and some sort of fashion accessory or woman's silhouette, then it's likely to be chick-lit. If the people on the cover have no or very little clothing (and this is particularly true of books where the man has a shirtless torso and/or no face,) there is likely to be a lot of sex. If there's a foreboding mountain and a tank, then it's about soldiers and/or war, and likely to be aimed primarily at middle-aged men.

I can think of absolutely tons of books that take advantage of their attractive covers to reel in readers (Twilight, anyone?) A popular book instantly spawns a flurry of copycat covers, and slogans like 'if you liked x you'll love y!'

And all of this is designed to control our spending habits - with the knock-on effect, of course, of controlling our reading habits.

The Internet Recommendations

We're used to the Internet choosing our books for us: Goodreads, Amazon, even the targeted ad banners. As soon as we let the all-seeing net know what books we've enjoyed in the past, we're bombarded by suggestions from hungry publishers and book-sellers.

But does that narrow our reading? If we're only given suggestions based on what we've already read, surely there's a chance that we'll fall into the trap of only reading books of a particular type or genre.

How are we going to read widely, and experience all that the written word has to offer, if we aren't aware of what books are out there?

The Stereotyping/Social Pressure

Where is it written that a straight man can't enjoy reading Jilly Cooper or Sophie Kinsella? Yet I honestly wish well any such person who has the gall to read chick-lit books - frilly covers and all - on the train (or any other public place.) If I were in their position, I'm not sure I'd be brave enough.

Because, while we shouldn't give a sh** about what people think, you can't help but notice when people are judging you. I should know, some of the looks I get at my esoteric library selections are quite unnerving.

But I love Wolverine. If there is a f**king Wolverine graphic novel that I want to read, I will add it to my selection of crime, historical fiction, paranormal romances, and whatever else has caught my eye that day - regardless of the snooty looks I get when I'm checking out.

And the not-so-confident reader? How are they feeling, as they clutch something that is considered inappropriate for their age group, gender, sexual orientation, race, class, or any other factor?

But, I hear you cry, Cee, what has this to do with the marketing of the book? Surely that's society's fault, not the marketers?

Well, yes and no. Sure, there's a hell of a lot to blame society for here. But there's also a lot to blame the marketers and retailers etc. for. They perpetuate stereotypes to the point where they end up creating the stereotypes. They manipulate consumer behaviour to produce sales, with little concern as to where that behaviour leads. But narrow-minded marketing, in the end, can only lead to people staying in the boxes pre-established for them - and both individuals and society miss out on the benefits of a wide range of books in the process.

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