Digital Publishing is the bane of existence in the world of bookshops. However, they do have one distinct advantage. They’re opening up the world of publishing to anyone. And with that, seemingly lost genres resurface. Among them: Pulp Fiction.
I love going to a book shop. I’ve made friends there, some of them still work there and recommend books to me every time I come in. It’s nice to not have to explain your taste in books to someone, because they know you. They know you, the person, not the statistics of your purchase that they use to recommend you books. And there’s just something awesome to being in a room full of books, full of people who share your enthusiasm or just came in to find a present for someone or people, who have seen a movie and they want the book to go with it.
All this is something that Amazon can’t give you. Because Amazon has other advantages. Namely digital publishing. Because that is a whole different market than the traditional book market. The Kindle is a great product, hands down. If you’re just interested in consuming a story and not in relishing in the object that is a book, then the Kindle is your thing. It’s got a handy back light so you can read on the bus in every light, its batteries don’t run out too quickly and you only need to be near a cell phone tower to get new books. But, it doesn’t have the smell of a book, the roughness of paper, the physical experience of turning a page and the excitement to find a book in a shelf.
Behind the scenes, the industries have completely different needs to remain profitable. Book shops need quality books, with nice covers and employees that really know their stuff. And they need to sell enough books to turn a profit. Going down one level, there’s the printing and publishing industry. They, too, need to turn a profit. And somewhere, there’s an author who also needs to make a living off of books. So of course, books are more expensive as they support many lives.
Digital publishing, on the other hand, only needs authors and storage. And seeing as storage is cheap these days and an eBook comes in at a few hundred kilobytes. This means that Amazon is, with a minimum price of 0.99 dollars, able to publish books that would never be published otherwise. There are books like Taken by the T-Rex by Christie Sims and Alara Branwen or, on a more serious note, the Bad Metal by Robert Black.
They’re books that would never have found their way to print. Neither Robert Black’s books nor Branwen/Sims’ works are inherently bad. They might not be your cup of tea as they too fulfill completely different needs. But they’re very much niche products. Branwen and Sims try to either fuel a fetish that I didn’t know existed or mock the fetish that I didn’t know existed, but they’re doing it well. The best parodies are the ones that play it straight. Black writes a series about a crew of people who hunt robots who have gone mental. His books, too, are very entertaining.
Blast From the Past
In the early days of mass produced printing, there was a genre known as pulp fiction. They were bold stories without much depth or reflection on the deeper topics of life. Super hero comics are said to be a direct descendant of pulp fiction. Wikipedia describes the pulps as follows:
Pulp magazines (often referred to as “the pulps”) are inexpensive fiction magazines that were published from 1896 through the 1950s. The term pulp derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed; in contrast, magazines printed on higher quality paper were called “glossies” or “slicks”. The typical pulp magazine had 128 pages; it was 7 inches (18 cm) wide by 10 inches (25 cm) high, and 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) thick, with ragged, untrimmed edges.
In their first decades, pulps were most often priced at ten cents per magazine, while competing slicks cost 25 cents a piece. Pulps were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were best known for their lurid and exploitative stories and sensational cover art. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of “hero pulps”; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters, such as The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom Detective.
The pulp industry mostly died out after World War II, although some remain. In the German speaking world, there are the ongoing series of ghost hunter John Sinclair and astronaut Perry Rhodan, the latter having racked over 2800 weekly issues since 1961.
Obviously, pulps are not as profitable as people hope to be. Following this, there needs to be something that makes them easier to produce and easier to advertise. Something like a few hundred kilobyte on a server somewhere on this planet and social media as well as automated algorithms that base recommendations on previous purchases or even page visits.
The automated process of recommendation by Amazon is the perfect means of giving pulp fiction a boost. Pulp fiction does give literature back something that was thought to be lost. And losing literature or aspects of it, no matter how trivial, is something we’re against at Uncanny.
Because, let’s be honest, not everything needs to be philosophically deep all the times. Sometimes, all you really want in something you read is a guy smashing robot heads in.