In connection with John McFetridge's excellent thread about who is reading our books, it might be interesting that GALLEY CAT today has a short report from a BEA event that involved a publisher-sponsored panel of authors discussing just this sort of thing. I take it from the brief summary that the three authors had little faith in their readership.
One of them stated, "All of us are writing for college-educated middle-aged white women." (A group that is predictably going to die out within the foreseeable future and seems to hang out in libraries anyway). Another complained that her comment about reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald caused a young woman to say, "I haven't read any of those Russian authors." And the third man on the panel enthused that authors were as inspired and brilliant as ever in spite of the declining literacy rates.
Clearly there is a problem. People don't like to read. In my experience as a teacher of literature that usually means they don't understand the vocabulary. It's a problem that writers try to overcome by appealing to the lowest common denominator (the young woman who thinks Hemingway is a Russian). The rationale seems to be: let's get the kids to read. It doesn't really matter about content and style, or anything brainy. If they're reading, that's the main thing.
Mind you, the three authors were literary fiction folk, but apparently even genre has to be dumbed down these day to sell.