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Niche Markets and Fragmentation

The first session we attended at ConVocation (see last post and the introduction to this con here) was by a publisher, Llewellyn Worldwide. The presenter was Elysia Gallo, Acquisitions Editor for Witchcraft, Wicca, Pagan, and Magickal books. (The spelling of magickal is Llewellyn’s.) Most conventions have such a session. This one was titled “Thinking of Getting Published?” It differed from the norm because Elysia gave, by-the-bye, a very interesting portrait of what it is like to be a mid-level publisher in a niche category in today’s publishing environment. To round out the picture, Llewellyn’s specializations are the paranormal, the aforementioned wiccan subjects, ecology and well being (body, mind & spirit), Tarot, and spiritual self-help titles. The company issues around 135 books a year.

Some of us attending this meeting had never heard of Llewellyn and therefore found Elysia’s presentation eye-opening. Here is a substantial publisher focused on one category of readers, no doubt a small minority of total readers—and yet doing a brisk business! Elysia Gallo herself visits such conventions routinely as a part of her job. Here she meets with current and future authors—and her mere presence promotes the publisher’s visibility.

In our subsequent discussions, the decentralized character of publishing today arose. The fact is that the logic of marketing has more and more forced what in plays and movies is called “type casting” (actors, of course, hate it)—namely classification of books by genre and by category of reader. One of our posts touching on this subject was “Romancing the Stats” here. The subdivisions there hide the even greater diversity beneath a broad label like “Religious/Inspirational.”

Multiculturalism may be derided but is a fact. The United States (needless to say) has never ever been a monoculture. But in the past its culture was either more coherent—or effective (and profitable) methods of reaching ever smaller subgroups had not as yet emerged. Now we are living in what some call an Age of Diversity and others an Age of Shatter—but whatever you call it, the It is increasing. In such an environment the commercial logic is to “Shape the product to a market.” It is much more difficult to “Find the market for an original product.”  The paradox is obvious. You cannot define a category like “original literature” without instantly deforming that which might be so described. Back a ways when the core of publishing was larger and still less differentiated, such products had an easier way of finding their audiences. Nowadays that core has been renamed Classic Literary Fiction, and an examination of it suggests that it has over time evolved its own strong ideological differentiation—no less so than, say, paganism. And that differentiation is? Well, we’ll leave that to you, dear reader.

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