Boomers on publishing industry's list

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- Looking for the baby boomer way to stay sexy? How about the way to pray to God? Or what about a scathing critique of the ''me'' generation's excesses?

Name your interest and chances are someone has written or is writing about the baby boomer perspective on the issue. The publishing industry has latched onto the baby boomer demographic, looking for ways to capitalize on the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 with books, magazines and other materials.

Some of the current offerings include:

-- ''Boomer Babes: A Woman's Guide to the New Middle Ages''

-- ''The Baby Boomer Bible Study'' and

-- ''Boomer Girls : Poems by Women from the Baby Boom Generation.''

''Your average publisher is trying to reach the boomer age group because they are the primary buyers of books,'' said Cullen Stanley, a book agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. ''My opinion is that any title that identifies who its audience is, is usually a good one because then people know what they're looking at.''

There's even a mystery series targeted at the children of boomers. The Baby Boomer Mysteries takes place in the late 1950s, the childhood years of older boomers.

And magazines -- in addition to AARP's My Generation, Reader's Digest has also set its sights on attracting boomer readers.

Not all boomer-focused efforts are flattering, though. Some take a more mixed view of the demographic, including David Brooks' ''Bobos in Paradise'' which discusses boomer-age consumers' shift from righteousness -- i.e. the Vietnam War protests -- to righteous materialism.

''Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomers,'' goes a step farther, castigating the post-World War II generation for being self-centered, rude and obnoxious.

But just including the phrase ''baby boomer'' in a title doesn't guarantee a hit. For every boomer who embraces being part of this generation, there is another who is repelled.

''Now that I'm dealing with realities of aging, I'd rather not identify myself that way,'' said Martha Cid, a New York publicist, who admits to being a young boomer. ''I also find that it's so hard to generalize about a generation, and I don't feel that I would have an interest in a book just because it covered that whole demographic range.''

That doesn't surprise Michal Strahilevitz, a marketing professor at the University of Arizona, who observes that any generation that covers an 18-year span is bound to include diverse perspectives, interests and hobbies.

''I almost think it's overdone,'' said Strahilevitz, who was born in 1964 but hesitates to describe herself as having boomer interests. She believes the idea of focusing marketing just on baby boomers, rather than a more specific demographic, ''is pretty naive. You're missing out on a lot of information that might help you reach more people.''

Booksellers say that although titles directly marketed toward boomers do sell, a better way to approach this group is via certain genres. Especially popular are themes like spirituality and history because of their focus on self-exploration or learning.

''The baby boomers are now of an age of growing up. They're seeking some kind of alternative to the work ethic of the 1980s and 1990s, trying to find a balance between money and career,'' said Martha Lightfoot, a buyer for WordsWorth Books in Cambridge, Mass. ''They're looking for spirituality ... they're also looking to the past for some kind of guidance.''

That search extends to fiction, too. Lightfoot said books like Nick Hornsby's ''How to be Good,'' which chronicles the quest of a boomer-age woman, appeal to boomers who may be asking themselves the same question. Another example: ''Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,'' which features a main character in her 40s and her group of girlfriends.

At the Cleveland Public Library, boomers are looking for more hands-on exploration.

''Right now our most popular subjects are cooking and interior decorating, which would lead me to believe that those are the things boomers are doing right now,'' said Richard Fox, a librarian who also coordinates a book club at the library. ''Boomers are interested in settling down and raising their families.''

In coming years, boomers are likely to gravitate even more toward self-improvement, health and inspirational/religion titles, predicts Bob Wietrak, a vice president of merchandising at Barnes & Noble, who notes that the demographic is the bookstore chain's key audience.

''Boomers are getting older and, while they want to be healthy and happy and have good relationships, I think a lot of them wonder what happens afterward,'' Wietrak said. ''I expect this to be a growing area.''

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