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Browsing the Bookstore

Herbie's picture

Genre presents an interesting problem in categorization, but at the same time, genre is perhaps a bookstore's most useful marketing tool.

Genre allows publishers and bookstores to market books to target audiences: children, girls, boys, teenagers, men, women, and all of these categories subdivided by age, race, sexuality, and undoubtedly a host of other categories. 

In a system based on capitalism, categorization and specialization are imperative.  The more categories, or genres, an object occupies, the more easily someone can sell that object to another.  For instance, in Britain, Bloomsbury Books publishes two editions of Harry Potter for each book.  The only difference between the two books is the cover.  Early Harry Potter novels were widely classified as children's books, but Bloomsbury clearly recognized that idea to be a fallacy and created a second, more adult version of each cover.  Harry Potter crossed genre boundaries by being appropriate reading material for both children and adults, but the constructed "child" and "adult" genres require separate marketing strategies.

Examples of the covers can be found via Amazon.comHarry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with its children's cover and its adult cover.

Another example stems from Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series.  Meyer mentions several times during her books that the protagonist, Bella, enjoys reading Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.  After Twilight's (in my opinion, undeserved) overwhelming success, HarperTeen Publishers printed a new edition of the Bronte classic to market specifically to Twilight fans.  Unlike previous covers that focused on the scenery, characters, or dress, HarperTeen's new cover deliberately and purposefully connoted the covers from the Twilight books, and early versions of this edition even boast to being "Bella  & Edward's favorite book."

Photo of the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights courtesy of To see photos of other Wuthering Heights covers, I recommend doing a quick search on or another bookseller's website.

In both of these examples, publishers use genre as an excuse for different marketing.  However, the original text doesn't change.  In fact, I would also argue that the genre itself doesn't change.  What changes is readers' perception of which genre(s) a book occupies.  When a bookseller contemplates which genre category, and thus which part of their store, to shelf a book, as Stephen Owen mentions, I would argue that the seller isn't thinking about which category or genre best fits the book.  I think it is much more likely that the seller shelves the book where he or she believes it will sell the most copies, regardless of whether or not the area is the appropriate genre, whatever "appropriate" means.