Why is Young Adult the fastest growing genre in fiction today?
Young Adult as a genre sits firmly within the generation Z age space of 15 – 20 years, and as such, is powerfully influenced by the unique socio-economic changes and the technological disruption that this cohort experiences. As a part of my talk, I wanted to bring up the following patterns and a touch of star gazing, as to why I think this has led to an explosion in the YA genre.
Offline is the new healing: This is an age group that has seen tremendous uncertainty in the form of recession, lifelong educational debt and no guarantee of jobs. It is first and foremost, an anxious generation. They are digital natives and understand instinctively the need to switch off from their constantly connected experiences for mental wellbeing. Given that paper books offer this haven, Generation Z is the first cohort since the Silent Generation to read books more than watch TV or use the phone. As a result, e-book sales have hit a plateau and we see a resurgence in print books. Ironically, this age group sees books as the ultimate immersive experience as opposed to TV (generation X) or the phone (millennials).
Digitise or Die: However, given the ubiquity of the net in our lives, the language in which this Generation reads is overwhelmingly English rather than Indian languages, largely because our stories and our quality content has yet to make its way in the digital space in text form. A research by mathematical linguist, Andras Kornai, has found that languages which do not exist digitally, will dwindle and die in the space of as little as 25 years. The Internet is the new coloniser. Young Adult existed in Bengali Literature way before the term was even thought up by marketers – we who read Bengali books along with English knew it as the immensely popular and best-selling Kishore Upanyas genre, a separate category altogether from Children’s books. Given the large shift of the current generation to English, the entire game of numbers in this genre has shifted to the English language space, adding momentum to an already fast pace of growth.
Blowing the bloody doors off (with apologies to The Italian Job): Publishing itself has become less sacred, for want of a better word. We can all publish today and tell our story in any way we like. Internet sensations like Rupi Kaur, the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, the embracing of fan fiction into the literary canon, and the acceptance of self-published books among readers has exploded the number of titles and readers.
Experimentation Central: This space is ripe for new experiences like social storytelling as in Wattpad, embedded VR in stories instead of illustrations, entirely new subcultures and worlds that merge diverse cultural experiences – consider Westworld, the TV show. I anticipate that the lead time between writing a story, publishing it and converting it for different media – dramatized readings, TV show, web series, etc. – will shrink dramatically very soon and that YA will be at the forefront of it all. This post prosperity, post truth, post gender generation will continue to bring up its new storylines as Gen Z come of age.