Friday, January 27, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on 1:09 PM 16 comments
There's a lively discussion going on over at Elle Strauss's blog about genre niches that aren't being filled. Many readers commented on the lack of books geared specifically toward college-aged kids.

The prevailing wisdom among legacy publishers--at least as far as I can see--is that college kids don't read for fun. They're too busy studying.

The truth is, if they're "too busy," it's playing XBox, going to frat parties and watching Jersey Shore. The college years are some of the most free and breezy of your entire life. The number of classroom hours is a fraction of that of high school kids. And the amount of "homework"? Well, my professor husband says it has steadily dropped as the cost of tuition has gone up. (One of the many things very broken about higher ed these days is just how little actual work students do. Make them work hard, you get bad evaluations and lose your job.)

This market niche is ripe for the picking, not only because of the sheer amount of free time college kids have. They also grew up reading, thanks to the phenomenon that is Harry Potter. The reason they stop reading isn't busy-ness. It's the lack of reading material that appeals to them. They want books more mature than YA--dealing with the transition to adulthood, without being fully adult. And since none exist, they stop reading. So maybe the "lack of market" is a self-perpetuating problem.

Let's be honest here--isn't advertising done in part to create demand for a product? Make enticing products and advertise like crazy and the co-eds will come.

What do you think? Is this a niche that indies/small presses should band together to fulfill?

16 comments:

  1. It could. I think the book I'm releasing soon could fall into this category, actually. It's not exactly YA, but it's not exactly women's fiction either. It's funny that how tastes change. I never was interested in YA until sometime in 2011. I bought 1 book, fell in love, and now can't get enough. And I'm 30. But there's that age group of young adults, who really are young ADULTS, who want nothing to do with their youth and nothing to do with adults because they think they own the world. I think you may be right - they'd read if there was something out there they could relate to.

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    1. I think the phenomenon I've heard sociologists discuss is how adolescence seems to be lasting longer than it used to. Some of that is "helicopter parents" not letting kids experice any bumps, some of it is the lack of jobs, and lack of workforce experience that keeps kids in a freewheeling teen state of mind well into their mid-20s. That speaks to a need for a transitional literature.

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  2. I don't think I read much in college. But I'm assuming there are lots of people that age that aren't in college. Good market for epublishing to test it out.

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    1. I was an English major who had hundreds of pages of reading a week, yet still read for fun. But college has gotten a lot easier and expectations lowered because a growing performance gap among HS graduates--some are actually ready to do college work, but a majority are not.

      Gadget ownership is high among this age group--so I agree that ebooks would be the way to go.

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  3. In college I read didn't miss "college age" books, I just read what was out there. Interesting.

    By the way, I love the font you use on your site.

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    1. Literature for this age group has never really existed, as far as I can tell. My argument is that it appears to be an emerging niche.

      Oh, there's a link at the bottom of the page for where I got the template. It has the font choice encoded in it.

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  4. The problem is not so much with publishers, a few of whom want to do these books. It's that booksellers don't have a place to shelve them. Shelf space is valuable and they want to give it to proven sellers.

    But here's where e-publishing can really work, because the shelf space is virtual and thus limitless.

    [Also, I never worked as hard in my life as I did the summer I took organic chemistry. 6-8 hours of classroom and lab work per day, plus 3-5 hours of homework per night. We were all basket cases by the end of the course, seeing benzene rings in every hexagon. But I think the college experience varies depending on where you go and what you major in.]

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    1. A good point, Jenn, about bookstores. This is where ebook publishing has the advantage--it can fill niches without having to convince anyone to reconfigure their store space.

      I'm not sure how close we are in age, but I'm willing to bet we studied, and worked harder in college than students today are expected to. This has been a growing trend over the past 20 years, according to recent studies. Take a look at this article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/04/what_happened_to_studying/.

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  5. Another opinion I have heard is that many college students are reading standard lit and are not as interested in books specifically targeted at them. This is the age they start feeling like real adults, and therefore read real books.

    I spent my college years practicing the piano too much and reading a whole lot of non-fiction that looking back, I wish I hadn't wasted time on.

    I am interested to hear more opinions on this matter.

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    1. But there aren't books targeted to them, that was my argument. How can we know that they won't read a type of book that hasn't been published? It's the "what came first, the chicken or the egg?" kind of dilemma. Is the lack of reading material affecting reading habits, or vice versa, as the received wisdom seems to be.

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  6. I remember having a ton of homework in college, but I still read YA. And YA is all I still read at 30. I never was drawn to adult books, and I may have read college- aged ones (if they read like a YA). Thankfully nowadays, you can find more envelope-pushy YA's (if the college aged kids can get over the ages of the characters) that maybe more college aged kids might pick up. But I totally get he not having time to read- during my english and american lit classes, all I read was what was assigned. I didn't have time to read for fun.

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    1. I have seen some books labeled YA with characters as old as 19. I wonder if we might see the market open more from younger readers "reading up" (like my 9-yo now reading MG books with 12 and 13-yo characters).

      The amount of required reading has declined in the past 10 years, say my professor colleagues in English departments. For colleges to stay afloat, admission standards are dropping and thus to prevent mass flunking out, classes are easier than they used to be. Sad, but true.

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  7. As a new college graduate, I can attest that I read for fun much less in college than I did in high school. The majority of my friends read maybe one or two books for fun each year. I'm not certain they would have read more had there been New Adult novels available to them.

    However, I -- for one -- would've enjoyed reading New Adult novels when I was in college, and even now when I no longer am. It's been my personal experience that people look back more fondly on college experience than high school ones. So it'd also appeal to adults as well.

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    1. Thanks so much for you insider perspective. I know that had the genre existed, I would have enjoyed NA books in college (and probably would now too!). I think you've got a GREAT point that college is in many ways better than high school. You can reinvent yourself and you have loads more freedom in the dorms than at home.

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  8. Sure! I think they should! I know there are several books I've read recently that fall into this category, but they're still marketed as older YA and "crossover" books. It seems like that category hasn't caught on well--I know my agent doesn't care for it. But I read in college--that's when I discovered Interview w/the Vampire. And Anne Rice! So you know. It can happen! :D <3

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    1. It sounds like the fact booksellers don't know how to shelve NA books may contribute to their not being "a thing" just yet.

      In high school and college I read almost only adult books (esp. fantasy and sci fi), but in all honesty the YA category was an emerging niche of its own back in the dark ages of Duran Duran and stirrup pants.

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