|Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Lee Lawrie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Identification or Instilling Prejudice?
Now and then on this blog we've tossed about the idea of assigning labels to things such as music and the effects of assigning those labels. People will often prejudge that which as been labelled in accordance with their own predilections. Therefore, using music as our example, if a work has a specific label such as classical, country, be-bop or what have you, a person might decide even before listening what their opinion will be and if they do listen to the musical work they are likely to hear the music based on their expectations of it. They don't go much deeper than knowing what they like and not much can change that opinion.
Is Labeling a Marketing Plus or a Drawback?
There might be inherent dangers from the standpoint of marketing when it comes to attaching labels to products. Labels can have the tendency to limit an audience resulting in less sales. On the other hand accurate labeling can draw the attention of a certain group attracted by whatever it is being promised by the label. If consumers feel they've been deceived by the labeling, they may be lost as a customer forever. And worse they might tell others about the deception which can give a product a very bad name.
Typically I think a label restricts interest for those who are turned off by the label and attracts those who are looking for products with that label. Reliable reviews and positive word of mouth can help to overturn preconceived prejudice in some few cases, but this kind of buzz can be difficult to generate. Labeling can be a blessing for the consumer in simplifying the decision to make a purchase, but a curse for the one who is attempting to break their product free from stereotyping to establish a broader reach into the marketplace.
So with this in mind, from the standpoint of authors and the publishing industry, is labeling books bad? The consumers job is made easier if they know whether to look in the romance or science fiction department. If the reader wants to escape into fiction and have nothing to do with non-fiction then this is more easily accomplished with labeling. If a writer wants to play to a specialized audience then the labeling does a better job of reaching that desired audience.
But what about the works that are not so easily categorized? The hybrid works and mash-ups can be difficult to place and may be rejected by the readers who are looking for one thing or another and not a combination of two or more things. The science fiction romance will likely be lumped in with the science fiction books which in turn will likely loose the romance fans. Internet book buying has solved much of this with tags. Unfortunately this is not as easy to do in a brick and mortar type environment where books are sold.
Does Authorial Intent Call for Labeling?
A bigger problem of labeling might come with genres such as Christian fiction. There is certainly a large enough audience to sustain marketability of products labeled as "Christian", but one might want to ask, "What is the goal of Christian literature?" Would that intent mostly be preaching to the choir or is there a deeper desire to help fulfill the Great Commission through literature? Would a non-Christian or a staid anti-Christian feel duped and angry if they were to start reading a book of this nature without being warned up front?
Same if a book were to be labeled "Atheist Literature" or "Muslim Literature" or any other such category. Why would these categories exist other than to promote a system of belief or open the minds of others to that belief? How readily do you find that audience who takes it upon themselves to read what they might disagree with or even heartily oppose? See the post by Rachelle Gardner on this topic. It's a few years old, but as relevant as ever.
Genre labeling can cover so many different topics and styles and is even broken down into more specific subgenres. However if authorial intent gets taken into greater consideration, should that take precedent over the actual story subject matter? The books of Ayn Rand or C.S. Lewis have perhaps a more persuasive ideological intent than those of authors such as Tom Clancy or Stephen King, authors who certainly have something to convey about their beliefs while taking care to retain commercial appeal that will sell more books.
Get Ready to Face the Music
My most recent interest about labeling has been more related to music due to my Battle of the Bands posts. The comments generally left on my BOTB posts as well as on those of my participating colleagues show some very rigid preferential inclinations toward certain styles of music as well as overtly stated distaste for other musical styles.
As I have a tendency to do, the next Battle of the Bands might be delving into unpopular realms for some, but done so in the interest of disseminating musical diversity. While my previous Battle of the Bands post featured heavy metal (or metal influenced) artists performing modern interpretations of classical music, the upcoming Battle will be somewhat reversed. It's coming this Sunday March 15th and if you show up for the Battle you will see what I'm talking about.
Do you like the idea of literature, music, and other arts being labeled? Do you feel that labels might hinder some from reading literature that is quite good, but avoided because of what the label suggests it might be? Have you ever felt deceived because a book that you read was propagating ideas or belief systems with which you disagreed or intensely disliked?