Genre labels: How important are they?

I don’t want to pay for books I’m just going to throw against the wall.
I used to feel pretty strongly that the big, broad genre labels are a good thing. Mystery, Romance, SciFi—these each clearly communicate some basic expectations for what I’m going to get when I open up a book or sit down in a movie theatre (though romance means something very different from books to movies). Sure there are books, movies, and TV shows that cross genre or that suffer from being pigeon holed, but for the most part, this systems worked for me for years. Nowadays, though, with cross genre and genre bending books aplenty I am more inclined to see the problems with the system. Especially when you break things down further and start labeling sub-genres.

PNR, SFR, UF, RS, Thriller, Military SF…Ack! Save me from the alphabet soup.
Every genre has sub-genres. If you have all day, check out Writer’s Digest’s list of defined sub-genres! My own reading, TV, and movie tastes cover a pretty broad sweep from Urban Fantasy to SciFi to Historical Romance to Suspense. I have some very clear definitions for each of these, but others don’t always agree or even have any ideas about what these sub-genres are all about. When we aren’t all talking the same language, do the labels cease to be effective? Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, for example. I know a lot of people who read both and don’t really know there is a difference. On the other hand, some romance fans will enjoy Paranormal Romance but hate the ambiguity found in many Urban Fantasy novels. The latter should be shelved in the Fantasy section in my opinion. But it gets marketed with Romance because, frankly, Romance sells better.

Confession: what I really want to rant about is my love of SciFi Romance.
It is probably no secret that I love SciFi Romance. I try to be an advocate of the sub-genre where I can. But some of my favorite SciFi Romance books are labeled as Paranormal Romance. CJ Barry recently launched a new series (which I talk about here) that is about Aliens hiding out on earth. SciFi Romance? Not according to the spine. Christine Feehan has a series about soldiers who are genetically altered, giving them psychic abilities. First and foremost, both of these series are Romance. No one would call them hard SciFi. I’ll give you that. But as far as Romance goes, they sound pretty SciFi to me. Feehan’s series has been labeled either Paranormal Romance or even Romantic Suspense. Apparently, the term SciFi is kiss of death in Romance. If they have to label it that way to sell it, I guess I’m glad they at least found a way, but how will we ever get this sub-genre recognized if we don’t label it that way? There are a lot of great authors out there writing SciFi Romance and Futuristic Romance, but how long can we expect them to work away with slim hopes of earning a living. Maybe the trend in e-books will change things.

What do you think?