Discussion | Assigning ‘value’ to genre books

This is going to be something of a discussion post, but also something of a wake-up call for myself. It is all spurred on by one particular book: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren.

(Before we start this: I know this is an incredibly privileged position to be in. The fact that I have the means to buy books at all is a privilege I am grateful for every day. I am fortunate enough to live in the UK, making book buying much easier than those living in countries that don’t have huge book markets. This is an extremely ‘first world problem’ to have. Disclaimer over.)

Me and my friend Liz have both wanted to read Christina Lauren’s newest release since it started making the rounds in the online book community pre-publication. It’s safe to say the hype train on this one has definitely left the station. We’d love to jump on that train too but, like so many other readers, we’re not based in the US, therefore we need to wait until the UK publication date of 2020 which, right now, seems like aaaages away. (We still have our fingers crossed that they’ll push up the UK pub date.)

Now, the ebook is available now via Amazon Kindle, but it’s a whopping £9.99 to purchase. I’ll be honest: ebooks being the same price, or in some cases more expensive than the print version, has always got my back up a little bit for no apparent reason. I think it’s down to the fact that I am stubborn and set in my ways and so I still prefer the tangible ‘pay money for physical product’ strategy as opposed to the whole digital download situation that is happening in all entertainment industries right now. (You can keep your digital copies, thanks, you will need to pry my DVDs from my cold, dead hands.)

The alternative, of course, would be to buy a paperback copy from the US directly and have it shipped over to the UK. This is very doable, since Amazon exists, as does Book Depository, and both make it easier for international readers to buy books that haven’t yet been released in their territory. I’ve done this many times: my very first realisation that this was even possible was when I bought Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer from Amazon US so I could get it a few months before the UK publication date. My point is: it’s been years that I’ve entertained this as a viable option…

However, choosing this option means incurring additional costs onto the RRP of the book. And have you seen the dollar to pound exchange rate lately? It ain’t looking so rosy. Of course, there is the shipping cost to account for too. All in all, this means that it will cost roughly £16 for me to buy a copy of The Unhoneymooners and have it in my grubby little hands in a couple of weeks. Whilst checking this for the sake of writing this post, I delightedly found out that, via Abebooks, I could actually shave off a couple of quid and get it for little over £11. Even better!

Even so… I suddenly paused. Did I want this book that much? Did I want to spend £11 on this book? That accidental inflection in my own inner monologue made me pause and, to be honest, take a good, long look at myself. (And then sit down to write this blog post.)

If this had been the latest YA SFF that EVERYONE on the online book community was talking about, I wouldn’t hesitate to click that little ‘buy’ button – I never have. Yet something about this book made me pause. And then it hit me… on some level, subconsciously, I was devaluing contemporary/romance books. I expected them to be priced at a lower price point than other genres I read, largely because such books are considered commercial fiction and, rightly or wrongly, considered somewhat disposable, more transient, less likely to be re-read and put up on a pedestal for their literary merit. (I’m not advocating this opinion, by the way, just trying to unpack years of twisted psychology on this.)

Deep down, I know that, in a few months or years, this book will be available on Scribd as part of my subscription or Amazon Kindle for a cheaper price in a Daily Deal. It will more likely than not happen, it’s just a case of when? And can I be patient enough to wait for that time?

Despite the material concerns, I really do think, in my own personal case, there has been an element of book snobbery at play here and YES I AM CALLING MYSELF OUT ON THIS. There is something about paying over £10 (an arbitrary and invented figure, I think we can all agree) for a romance book in particular that gave me reason to pause where shelling out the same amount for a fantasy hardback wouldn’t have. It’s idiocy of the highest order because I know I will likely love Christina Lauren’s book just as much as I love my YA fantasy, if not more.

So why (oh why) do I still have this cause to pause? I think I would like to blame unknowing conditioning about typical price points for ‘chick lit’ (ugh, what a horrible term, but useful in this case) that I’ve been privy to over the years. At its heart, it’s all somewhat underpinned by remnants of specifically book genre snobbery. Genre fiction isn’t literary fiction; I have come to expect to be asked to pay more for literary fiction than genre fiction. (I understand why, from a publishing and sales POV, this mathematically checks out but I’m wearing my consumer hat here, not my publisher hat.) Isn’t that all actually kind of messed up? It means that, just in terms of the cold hard cash of a book, we’re (subconsciously) taught to devalue/undervalue books of this type. We end up, unknowingly or otherwise, undervaluing genre fiction.

Tell me: is it just me?! Do you ever hesitate in paying a certain price for certain genres? Do you ever see evidence of genre snobbery in the way you purchase and/or consume books or other media? Or am I just completely alone in this? Let me know; I’m very intrigued about this topic so would love to hear your thoughts!


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3 thoughts on “Discussion | Assigning ‘value’ to genre books

  1. arubunwritten 05/07/2019 / 15:08

    I just have a general rule about when I would buy a book: if I have already read it and loved it then I’m more likely to buy it. Or if it’s an author I love. Like Liz has said, some of it is to do with format. Genre has never come into play in terms of how much I’m willing to spend.

    What you experienced is definitely interesting and I’m sure it plays out differently with other people. I mean, I probably wouldn’t spend money on a romance book either but I think that’s more to do with enjoyment than genre snobbery specifically.

    As someone who also works in publishing, I’m surrounded by people who read literary fiction versus my fantasy/YA tastes and I initially felt a bit embarrassed about what I read, because there was a sense that my tastes weren’t mature enough and that’s another way genre snobbery plays out.

    Really interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liz Whitehouse 21/06/2019 / 21:26

    For me, the big sticking point is the format as opposed to cost. I refuse to pay £9.99 for an ebook. I don’t like digital ownership, I feel like it can be taken away, so my issue lies there for than the genre
    That said, there is definite genre biased. I mean, I won’t really spend loads on any genre in books unless it’s a special edition, but I definitely do this similarly with film. Have I paid almost £20 to see an Avengers film at the cinema, you bet your ass I have. Would I drop that much on a chick flick I will adore? Hell no, I’ll wait a couple of months until it’s on Netflix or I can buy in the supermarket for £5 max.

    Liked by 1 person

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