According to Michael Blowhard:
. . .the interest most people have in most fiction depends on story, hook, subject matter, and character. Without the chance to relate to and enjoy these elements, 90% of people would lose their interest in fiction. They'd turn elsewhere for story-and-character satisfactions: to history, to journalism, to gossip, even to reality television. (Hey, a lot of people have already turned away from respectable fiction to these other media for their story pleasures. You don't think there's a connection, do you?) But we aren't going to live life without enjoying stories and characters, that's for sure.
Another way of putting it: while the occasional individual work of fiction may fare well enough without much in the way of story, the well-being of fiction generally depends on a shared interest (on the part of readers and writers) in characters, stories, hooks, and subject matter.
In fact, I do believe there's a connection between the popularity of such things as reality television and the relative non-popularity of literary fiction: "most people" have no interest, have never had any interest, in the sorts of things serious art and literature have to offer. For whatever reason, "most people" are incapable of paying attention to the formal and stylistic qualities that most artists seek to embody in their work, the qualities that make art art. In the case of literature, "most people" pay no attention to the "writin'" (as MB puts it) because "most people" are barely capable of using the language well enough just to get by in their own daily lives, never mind being able to appreciate the skill with which some poets and novelists can make the language say things it's never said before.
These are not "elitist" observations. They are simply facts. It is also a fact that literature has never been something of interest to "most people." But why should it be? MB seems to think he's punctured literary fiction's pretensions by asserting that "90% of people would lose their interest in fiction" if it didn't include "hooks" and other mindless devices, but why would writers want to solicit the attention of people who are more interested in Wife Swap to begin with? I don't know if 90% of us are this shallow or not, but even granting the claim, what's the problem with appealing to the 10% who want more, who are capable of paying attention? Why not just leave the "fancypants" writers to the fancypants readers and otherwise ignore them? Why MB's apparent need to denigrate the tastes of these readers even though by his own admission he has the vast majority of non-readers on his side anyway?
To be somewhat more charitable, MB apparently believes that the "well-being of fiction" can only be assured if it competes with other forms of narrative entertainment. But why should this be the case? Why should the measure of the accomplishments of literary fiction--of any form of art--be the degree to which it has appealed to a mass audience? MB clearly enough shares the tastes of this audience himself, but surely even he doesn't think that sheer popularity confers artistic success. I don't myself necessarily think it is the function of serious literature to deliberately reject success in the marketplace or to brandish its unpopularity like a rebel's sword. I think serious writers ought merely to ignore marketplace imperatives when those imperatives are at odds with their artistic integrity. If some readers find this elitist and alienating, so be it. In my opinion, it's better to have readers in sympathy with one's goals, even if this means having fewer readers, than to court readers who can't bother to question their reflexive demand for "story."
MB allows that "Writers can (and will) do as they please. Of course, readers can (and will) read to please themselves too." But he can't resist adding that "It's idiotic to think that the fundamentals of most people's interest in fiction will ever extend too far beyond storytelling, subject matter, hook, and character." Again back to "most people." As far as I'm concerned "most people" can "read to please themselves" as well. (Actually, I'm pretty sure "most people" don't read at all.) But I don't really spend that much time obsessing over their reading habits, or putting up lengthy posts explaining why they're so misguided.