Why Johnny Still Won't Read

Thursday, May 6, 2010

At the Huffington Post, Jason Pinter says the publishing adage that men don't read is a self-fulfilling prophecy because editorial boards are dominated by women.  He describes his difficulty as an editor trying to sell a book by professional wrestler Chris Jericho:

Nobody can deny the fact that most editorial meetings tend to be dominated by women. Saying the ratio is 75/25 is not overstating things. So needless to say when a male editor pitches a book aimed at men, there are perilously few men to read it and give their opinions. Not to mention that, because there are so few men, the competition to buy books aimed at men is astronomical. I was once shot down in an effort to buy a sports humor book because I couldn't get the support of a senior editor. The reason? This editor had written a similar book proposal on submission and didn't want to hurt his chances of selling it.

Men read. Tons of them do. But they are not marketed to, not targeted, and often totally dismissed. Go to a book conference, a signing. Outside of a Tucker Max event, what percentage of attendees are men?

Laura Miller from Salon then asks the obvious next question: why is publishing structured this way?

Could it be the low pay, low status and ridiculous hours? (Remember that book editors seldom get to read manuscripts in the office -- that's what weekends are for.) Apart from a handful of celebrated figures, it's the rare editor who gets paid more than a secondary school teacher in a middle-class district. The profession has come to look a lot like a skilled, pink-collar ghetto, albeit garnished with a thin dusting of reflected glamor.

I don't have a lot to add besides anecdotal evidence, but in my experience the men I know who do read read mostly history, current events/politics, and thrillers, not the type of literary fiction that is supposed to validate the worthiness of the whole enterprise.  Maybe the problem isn't how many men read, but that what they read doesn't excite the editorial boards (sorry Jason, I probably wouldn't read the book about Chris Jericho either).

Pinter thinks the solution is simple though, and I have to agree:

Publish more books for men and boys. Trust editors who try to buy these books, and work on the marketing campaigns to hit those audiences. The readers are there, waiting, eager just under the surface. And I promise, if publishing makes an effort to tap it, they'll come out in droves. It won't be easy. They've been alienated for a long time and might need to be roused from their slumber. But as I've always said the biggest problems facing the publishing industry are not ebooks, or returns, but the number of people reading. This is a way to bring back a lot of readers who have essentially been forgotten about.