Literary fiction - those celebrated but unread books that all the chattering folk recommend to each other - is struggling:
Finally it’s official: literary fiction is in crisis, and writers across the land are burning the midnight oil in their garrets, teaching or slogging away in unrelated jobs to keep the fire ablaze in the grate. This Dickensian picture was revealed by Arts Council England today in a report that suggests it may have to shift its funding priorities in order to save a population whose economic and cultural solvency has been chipped away over the years.We're told (although there's no actual evidence presented) that publishers used to be lovely sorts who allowed authors advances that didn't "earn out" because of "literary value that could be offset against the profits of more pragmatic publishing". And we're also told that there's no let up in us buying and reading books - we're just not buying 'literary fiction'.
Apparently though, saying things like 'try writing stuff that people want to read' isn't the right response - we should instead be subsidising publishers so those penning angst-ridden novels filled with meaningful dialogue and incisive social commentary can carry on doing so despite the fact that only a few close friends opt to read the books.
In the end there is a huge gulf between what people read and the endless self-referencing of the literary fiction advocates. Here's Neal Stephenson - an author, a very good author, who writes some of that terrible 'genre fiction' so disdained by the literary cognoscenti (and The Guardian's Associate Editor, Culture):
I went to a writers' conference. I was making chitchat with another writer, a critically acclaimed literary novelist who taught at a university. She had never heard of me. After we'd exchanged a bit of of small talk, she asked me "And where do you teach?" just as naturally as one Slashdotter would ask another "And which distro do you use?"Yay for science fiction!
I was taken aback. "I don't teach anywhere," I said.
Her turn to be taken aback. "Then what do you do?"
"I'm...a writer," I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say, since she already knew that.
"Yes, but what do you do?"
I couldn't think of how to answer the question---I'd already answered it!
"You can't make a living out of being a writer, so how do you make money?" she tried.
"From...being a writer," I stammered.