I’ve been noticing a trend. My sampling is unscientific but others are welcome to chime in. I went Christmas shopping with the family today and stopped at my favorite Montpelier bookstore (two used and one new) —Bear Pond Books. Here’s what I can tell you: the poetry section is evaporating. I mentioned the fact to the bookstore clerks but (unsurprisingly perhaps) they didn’t really want to talk about it. I notice the same behavior in other bookstores. Curiously, even when it was patently obvious that the poetry section was a pitiful shadow of its former self, the store employees acted as though they were utterly unaware of it. I can imagine two reasons why. First, what business wants to admit that they’re losing business or under selling? Second, perhaps other customers have noticed the same trend? Maybe owners are fed up with having to explain to that two percent (those who actually buy poetry) that two percent does not a profit make.
Poetry is susceptible to the tyranny of the market. Market forces determine the size of the market and the distribution of the market. But individual preferences also determine the market. When it comes to literature, I think people mostly will choose the literature that matches their natural factor endowments. I also believe that people will consume the product with the lowest marginal cost of consumption. In other words, people will pick and eat the low hanging fruit. When it comes to poetry, poetry comes at a high cost of consumption which is out of the reach of most consumers. In this digital age where video can be watched on a phone, consumers will choose to watch videos before reading. And when they read, they will choose to read fiction before non fiction. This represents a change in demand for poetry. If market forces are truly at work, the price of poetry books should be dropping.
My favorite poem is, "For Once than Something" by Robert Frost. The analysis is given here. My favorite part of the poem is :
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.
For me it means that once you get close to something it slips away. And so is the market. To think that you can control a market is foolish.