@JHM: I get it, there is definately two sides to the argument. However, the questions I asked myself as I read your post were "poisonous", "worse", and "harmful" for whom?
The only reason publishers use these categories is because they believe it will help them sell books. Apparently, it must serve some function for the readers, or they wouldn't arise in the first place. And speaking from my own personal experience, when I go into a bookstore I don't want to peruse the "book" section. I want to go straight to what interests me, and that requires an organizational structure of some kind. On the other hand, I also know that if I spend too much time in that one section I will eventually get bored with it, so I need the opportunity to browse material I otherwise wouldn't seek out. But on the other hand from that, I also want the ability to avoid those types of works I know I'm not interested in, like poetry. All this would seem to require that works be organized into a structure of some kind. I don't think that I'm the only one who feels this way, and in fact probably a majority of readers want publishers to market works to them that they have reason to be interested in.
Digital is only going to make this worse. E-readers track what you read, and make recommendations to you based on your reading history. That creates an even narrower set of constraints that prevent readers from encountering different types of works.
I do not deny that there are costs to all this. Any structure that the market imposes on works places restrictions on what types of works authors can get published and mass-marketed. And there is a very healthy percentage of readers (probably not a majority, though) who appreciate works which are so unique they literally don't fit in any category. So obviously a balance of some kind has to be reached. I think that the solution, for authors as well as readers, is to make sure that a work is cross-tagged to as many different genres and sub-genres as appropriate. I think that there is still a tendency to believe that a particular work can only belong to one genre (it's either sci-fi or horror)- that hasn't been true for a long time, if it ever really was. A bookstore can put the same title on more than one shelf, thus ensuring that more people will come across it.
Another problem with genres is that people have a tendency to think they are fixed for all time, or at least that they change very slowly. Actually, genres and sub-genres break-up and re-coalesce all the time, just like music. Science Fiction is as dead as Jazz as a category that useful to anyone other than a librarian, and for the same reason- both matured into many niche interests that cater to different audiences. Provided that one remembers that a given work can belong to many genres and sub-genres at one time (hard-science epic-opera eldritch-horror; indie jazz rock) this shouldn't stop anyone from marketing any work.
Just remember that "so unique that it cant be categorized" is itself
a specialized niche.
Since it stands to reason that young adult readers (12-18 or so) have unique interests, ones that they do not necessarily share with other populations of readers, it would seem to be of benefit to them to be able to target their search to works that are more likely to satisfy those interests. Hence the genre that arose for them.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that publishers will always (or even often) be skillful in applying genres as marketing tools. They have a tendency to reject works that do not clearly correspond to a pre-conceived set of pigeonholes. That's evidence of lazy marketing, not wanting to do the research, and a greedy desire to reduce the R&D budget. I think that eventually they will either stop acting like that, or something is going to come along and put them out of business.
edited 21st Apr '13 11:37:33 AM by DeMarquis