Today, prompted by an item in the Dallas Morning News, Maya Reynolds was posting about e-books in classrooms, and she discussed their advantages and disadvantages. It seems unlikely that these students would be studying romance novels. Even at university level 'there are very few enlightened institutions of higher learning where romances are making up many of coursepacks', as Isabel Swift, Harlequin's VP, Author & Asset Development has observed.
One problem facing scholars who wish to study and teach romance is availability (or rather non-availability) of texts. While it may be possible for an individual to find second-hand copies on ebay, at Amazon or in second-hand book shops, they're not the most dependable sources if one wants to buy large quantities of primary texts. University libraries don't tend to have extensive collections of romance novels (I'd imagine that many university libraries have no mass-market romances at all), although there are a few exceptions, such as The Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University, which
holds a wide range of romance materials from novels to valentines. The collection includes more than 10,000 volumes of category romance series from publishers such as Harlequin, Silhouette, Loveswept, Candlelight Ecstasy, and others. The holdings also include a sizable collection of mass-market romance novels, including Georgian, regency, gothic, contemporary and historicals. Leading novelists like Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Eden, Faith Baldwin, Barbara Cartland, Janet Dailey and Jayne Ann Krentz, among others, are represented in the collection. (more details here)and the University of Melbourne:
The Romance Fiction Collections is a comprehensive collection of paper-back fiction by Australian and New Zealand, as well as British and American romance novelists; published from the 1960s up until the present, by publishers such as Mills and Boon, Silhouette and the Women’s Weekly Library. (more details here)A significant problem for romance scholarship, then, is availability of primary texts, and not just in university libraries, but in the quantities needed if the novels are to be bought and read by large groups of students. As Juliet Flesch has noted,
These days, romance novels are published with all the appurtenances of normal books: they have title-pages, printing histories, ISBNs and copyright statements. They have, however, a remarkably short shelf-life. Harlequin Enterprises, for example, keep a backlist of three months. After that, unless they are reprinted in a “classic” edition, the books are out of print. (Flesch 1997: 119)While single-title romances may remain available in the bookshops somewhat longer, availability, particularly for non-current titles written by some of the less famous authors, or even for the earlier works of now-famous romance authors, can be problematic. And if an academic wishes to have students study a category romance, he or she is going to have to work fast to find the book, read it, analyse it, decide it's worth teaching and make sure that the students buy sufficient copies of it, all before the book is replaced by next month's batch of category romances.
There's been a lot of talk about the 'long tail' (see here, for example), whereby a book continues to be sold and read long after its publication date:
[Chris] Anderson [who coined the term] argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Examples of such mega-stores include the online retailer Amazon.com and the online video rental service Netflix. The Long Tail is a potential market and, as the examples illustrate, the distribution and sales channel opportunities created by the Internet often enable businesses to tap into that market successfully. (Wikipedia)There are two ways in which this relates to the romance genre. The first is due the rise of the e-book. Many romances are now being published or republished as e-books (though there are still problems with standardising formats and hardware). The second is the creation of the Espresso Book Machine:
which can print black-and-white text for a 300-page paperback with a four-color cover, and bind it together in three minutes. [...] "Our goal is to preserve the economic and ergonomic simplicity of the physical book," said Epstein, who laments the disappearance of backlist and ready access to books in other languages. By printing from digital files, ODB hopes to make warehousing—and much of today's distribution model—obsolete. "In theory," said Epstein, "every book printed will be digitized, which means the market will be radically decentralized. A bookstore with this technology, without any expense to themselves [other than the machine] can increase their footprint." [...] While the Espresso Book Machine can print original manuscripts [...], the ODB team has a more ambitious goal: they want stores and libraries to use the machine to print copies of slow-selling titles or books that have temporarily gone out of stock, as well as rare books. (Publishers Weekly)I hope these new technologies will prove to be the perfect partners for the serious, detailed, in-depth academic study and teaching of individual modern romance novels.
- Flesch, Juliet, 1997. ‘Not just housewives and old maids’, Collection Building, 16.3: 119-124.