Friday, December 10, 2010

We Are The Borg

The New York Times published an article recently about the sale of romances as ebooks.  The article was entitled Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive.  Gee, how many clichés can they get into one headline?

To the Times' credit, this article is deemed to be part of their usual book section, but in every other sense, it might have been in Business:  it's really about the publishing industry.  The thesis was pretty simple: it's embarrassing to be seen reading romance novels, so this drives the sale of romance ebooks so that commuters like Smart Bitches' Sarah Wendell can read them in public.

Two things:  1) I'll admit I take advantage of the anonymity of e-reading when it comes to erotica.  Heh heh -- I was reading a dirty book at Disney World last week and no one noticed.  (Never mind the fact that most of those books are only published in digital formats...)  2) Of all the high faluting reasons to buy or not buy an e-reader . . . I missed the one about being able to "pass" as a properly literate person.  Oh, so that's why I bought a Kindle?!  Silly me.

The article was offensive in a lot of ways, but it was also consistent with the snobbishness the Times has demonstrated with regard to fiction.  If Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult are right about the hierarchy, male literary fiction authors rank above female literary fiction authors, who may (or may not) rank above male genre writers, who rank above female genre writers, and so forth.  Genres are ranked as well: mystery/thrillers over science fiction over women's fiction over chick lit over ... well, romances.

Go look at the Times article:  there's no discussion of romance novels themselves, their authors, the sub-genres, or even of the reading experience apart from the whiff of disdain about the covers.  No, none of that matters.  All that matters is that we, as readers, spend a lot of money on books and now, it seems, we spend a lot of money on ebooks and we do that because we don't want to be seen as readers of romances.  Basically, romance novels are a bunch of words with a happy ending and a cheesy cover.  No, really -- the article mentions the necessary happy ending twice, as though that's the only thing that identifies a romance novel as such.  (Now, if the Times had run an article about the diversity of romance novels, emphasizing that the only universal element is the happy ending but along the way pointing out all the sub-genres, thousands of authors, etc., etc., I wouldn't mind so much.  But when "the happy ending" is the only feature they care to mention?  No.)

But wait till you see how they describe readers:
If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper,
the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and

It's the potato chip argument all over again: we'll read anything (provided it has a happy ending) and we're undiscriminating.  But easily embarrassed...

And don't you love how we're reduced to a single personality?  We are THE romance reader.  Not a multiplicity of romance readers -- a singularity.  We have a hive mind.  We are The Borg.

Wow.  Not only did I miss the memo about how I should buy an e-reader so people can't see that I'm reading bodice-rippers, but I missed the ominous statement, "You will be assimilated," when I first picked up a romance novel over 40 years ago.

This is so obviously ludicrous that if it were anything other than The New York Times -- "the newspaper of record" -- I'd shrug and ignore it.  But coming from the New York Times, I have to say it.  That's just stupid.

Look at all the debate in comment threads and on Twitter.  We don't have a hive mind.  Hell, some romance readers are so contrarian that if I say white, you can bet they'll mention everything from ebony to onyx.  Complete with footnotes, if possible!

I would like to get huffy and demand how we got here -- to this bizarre notion that 75 million people (the number mentioned by the Times of people who read at least one romance last year) think as one  -- but then I realize we're supposed to be happy the Times mentions us at all.  We're not only The Borg, we're invisible.

Except when we spend money.  Look at how many romances end up on the New York Times bestseller list -- we may have a hive mind, but we're The Borg with disposable income.

Of course, you may disagree.


  1. That does seem to be the point they're missing on purpose... we have disposable income and we choose to spend it on books and electronic devices! :P Jessica wrote a good piece on the Time too at Read React Review. Proud to be The Borg!

  2. OOO, I always wanted to be part of The Borg, because, hey, Shiny! and now it seems I am and I didn't even know it. So where's my Shiny?!?

    I read the article, and Jessica's critique and several others. And I have to agree--the Times trivialized the 1-disposable income, 2-the convenience factor(lots of books in a small, lightweight space). All so they could make cheap comments about the covers.
    I think we were supposed to be impressed that we actually got mentioned in the NY Times Book section. But I am not impressed. I won't be impressed until they get it right!

  3. Janet W: Bafriva -- Yes indeed. Why would just the mere mention of being in the NYTimes and somewhat haphazardly respectfully at that, thrill me? Really?

    I'll buy an e-reader when I feel like it so I can stop wrecking my arm when I travel ... I mean great, no one knows what I'm reading ... that's valid. But because women knowledgeable in the field are quoted, I'm supposed to suck up the Great Grey Lady's overlying patronizing attitude? I don't think so. Imagine if the article profiled baseball fans w/fantasy teams or SF fanatics (and you see, I don't think lumping and dumping anyone makes sense). Focus on the $$$$ we spend and leave the dime store analyzing of why for the cutting room floor.

  4. I'm a carp! LMAO No wonder no one reads newspapers anymore.


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