Sunday, March 13, 2016

Commercialization of Book Love

I just read a post at Princessica of Books, in which Jess asserts that book bloggers are materialistic, because of their tendency to acquire books faster than they can read them, and/or to buy books just because they like the look of them.  It was an interesting post (with an interesting discussion following), and it inspired me to write a post about a related issue I've been mulling over for awhile.

The commercialization of book love.  Long, long ago, when I was a kid, being a bookworm meant you went to the library a lot, read a lot, and family gave you books on your birthday.  Paperbacks, usually.  You and your friends lent each other books, and you were excited to talk about the books you all loved.  Maybe your fourth grade teacher had to pat you down before math class to be sure you weren't going to sneak read your book in your lap while she was teaching.  (What, just me?) You took turns reading books aloud with your sisters or your best friend.  If you were sick, your parents would stop by the library and check out a stack of books for you.  As you grew up, you continued most of these habits, joined a book club here and there, and carried a piece of paper in your purse so you could jot down interesting titles in bookstores and later check them out at the library.

Now though.  Now we have bookish t-shirts, and bookish subscription boxes.  If you're a book lover, you can buy jewelry inspired by your favorite series, socks that proclaim your bookish tendencies, and candles with that bookstore scent.  You can compete for ARCs, pay a blog designer to give you the book blog of your dreams, and insist on owning matching hardbacks of series after series.

We've become a marketing target.  Where once we were supporting authors, publishers, libraries and bookstores, now we're supporting all sorts of businesses.  Are you really a bookworm if you don't have any Jane Austen t-shirts?  Can you claim to love Harry Potter yet not own a single wand, Deathly Hallows necklace, or Gryffindor scarf?

Don't get me wrong--I'm a sucker for all these things too.  My husband got me a very cool Call of the Wild t-shirt for Christmas and it makes me happy every time I wear it.  I'm despondent over losing one of my Golden Snitch earrings.

Book box day is the best day of the month.

But really, is all of that necessary?  Or is it taking a very accessible hobby, and turning it into a middle class status competition?

13 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I’m a broke graduate student, so other than my fairly large (about 40 books) TBR pile, I don’t have a lot of bookish stuff. Almost all of my books are from used bookstores, bought secondhand online, or from scratch-and-dent sales. I’ve never gotten a subscription box. I own exactly 0 bookish merchandise items. Even my bookmarks are just pieces of cardboard. I don’t feel the need to own a bunch of pretty bookish stuff, so for me, the hobby is still accessible.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I'm glad to hear that! I've always been a huge reader without feeling a need to own all that many books, so this post really came from realizing how acquisitive I was feeling regarding bookish merchandise.

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  2. Hmm. Books as a very accessible hobby. I hadn't thought of them that way. I laughed at your math teacher patting you down for books.
    I have gone in an out of love with books through out my life.
    I agree that the marketing strategies make popular books more cultish. However, if commercialism gets good books more in the public eye -- especially meaning younger people on the planet who generally report that they DON'T read -- then, I'd say sell away.
    When I saw Matt de la Pena give his writing workshop with students I spontaneously bought 6 of his books. Hmm...will I read them all? I'm in Mexican White Boy and like it.
    Time will tell what I do with the others. I need time for wool gathering, weed pulling and writing. I can't just read with my limited free time.

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    1. I believe I've bought all of his books for my classroom, except his first picture book. So far I've read Mexican Whiteboy, I Will Save You, Ball Don't Lie, and Last Stop on Market Street, and been impressed with every single one. I am a total sucker for buying books after I've heard an author speak.

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  3. Wow! That's deep. The commercialization and popularity of being a nerd is something that I recently discussed with my high school girlfriends (we have always been self proclaimed nerds). When we were actually in high school, it wasn't cool to be nerdy, but we had each other, were self aware, and so, we didn't care about our popularity. Now we are offended that others want to join our club. So your questions feel like they are being asked directly at me. I think I have fallen for this book love label. Just last year I found myself actually competing (in my own mind) in a book challenge on Goodreads. I refused to have anyone I know read more books than me. I'm not even sure I was enjoying the books, just reading like a fiend. Craziness. Anyway, thanks for the thoughts today. I'm sure I will continue to ponder them for days.

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    1. I am non competitive nearly to a fault, EXCEPT when it comes to books. Isn't it funny?

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  4. This is so interesting - I've never really thought about it before! In some ways, I think this transition is a good thing, as long as we don't go overboard. We've always had merchandise for our favorite TV shows and movies, but books didn't get the same mainstream attention. The fact that people can proudly advertise their favorite book on their shirt gets more focus on those books, so I like that! But it is interesting how we tend to commercialize EVERYTHING. It's the American way!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. Yeah, I am all for promoting the love of books. I just do think that it's an interesting cultural phenomenon. I am always fascinated by how little STUFF most people in earlier generations had compared to what we have now.

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  5. I think it's a blessing but it can also be a curse. I think it's cool now that we have merchandise for book lovers and that now we have bookish t-shirts and stuff, but I don't think it's really going to turn into this whole "If you don't have X then you're not a bookworm". I think people will know at heart that bookworms are just people who like to read. It's still looked as totally weird and nerdy more than things like comic books are now a days. Comic books are now seen as kind of a cool label, where as bookish things are still seen as weirdly nerdy. Which I'm completely okay with haha. Of course all this stuff isn't /necessary/ but it's fun to have a little piece of jewelry to express your love for something. Plus these are usually small businesses, so you're supporting small businesses!

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    1. Ooh, I love that point about small businesses, Alexa. And yes, I certainly agree things things are fun.

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  6. I'm glad to hear that my post inspired yours! This is a topic I never really thought about. I think that the merchandise definitely deepens my love for the series, but I agree that it shouldn't define us as readers. Booknerds, and people in general, are proud and they like to show off what they like (like a basketball fan would wear their favorite team's jersey). However, I see how it sometimes define status: that these book worms have the money or their blog is good enough where they can request things and get them for free (like how some Booktubers and Bookstagrammers get free Owlcrate boxes). Sure, it's nice to help out a business and it's good that we are taking advantage of our opportunities, but I definitely understand where you are coming from. This is a wonderful discussion!

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  7. Interesting post. I don't own anything bookish, but I understand what you are saying. I don't buy merchandise related to books, and I don't know anyone who does. All the people I know who have memorabilia--Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.--bought it because of the movie or TV adaptation, not because of the book itself. For example, I have a Game of Thrones hat. I wouldn't have ever bought that if I hadn't gotten hooked on the TV show.

    Jen @ Books That Hook

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  8. I never actually thought about this. Your first paragraph completely described my childhood though (I didn't get pat downs, but reading was pretty much the only thing I ever got in trouble for in school lol). But seriously, you make a great point. We have become a marketing target for all sorts of types of companies. In a way it's nice having these things available, but in a way it does make things more like some sort of competition. I guess I'm totally losing the competition though since I don't actually own anything bookish, aside from books of course :-P

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