At the Romantic Times forum (e.g. here) I see various discussions that make it very clear that there is an increasing division between existing romance readers and the new wave. I wonder if the very existence of the division is due the slump that occurred during the nineties when the genre was slow to adapt to the changing market, meaning the new market developed relatively suddenly.
But regardless of the reason you have a group who very much yearn for what romance was a few decades ago with a heavy emphasis on historical and men who take what they want. Then there is a group who are very focused on men who may be strong but are never controlling and an urge to explore sexuality and orientation.
The up shot of this is that what was once mainstream and "normal" is only one dish at the buffet. Thanks to Cathy Clamp for drawing my attention to what the dish is being called. I response to my question about where to find sweet and super-alpha she writes:
They're calling these "Traditional" romances, ala Mills & Boon (although that's not the only thing M&B is publishing nowadays.) The RITA award has a special section for Traditional Romances. You might pick up this years finalists to see if they're what you're looking for (and if they are, checking out the past couple of years' finalists will give you the names of additional publishers/authors. In this year's award, it seems that Harlequin has the only contenders, but last year, Dorchester had two on the finalist list.
Traditional as the RWA specifies this category seems to related specifically to sexual content... "Sweet romantic novels ... the emphasis is on the development of an emotional relationship that ultimately results in the promise of a long-term commitment. The stories may include sexual tension and, within marriage, sexual fulfillment." ...but to my ear it is a reasonable description of the general area of old-fashioned historicals, super-alphas and sex-typically-only-within-marriage-and-sometimes-without--clear-consent stories.
I wonder if this change in emphasis may be a problem for the traditional reader who is also also likely to be a traditional shopper. With time this sub-genre is likely to retreat further into specialist lines, small presses and ebooks. But the first step would be in increasing recognition of 'Traditional' as a niche not a norm. (The term is hardly nailed down when wikipedia is calling my books "traditional romance" --as a subset of original slash).
We are, as far as I can tell, fast approaching a stage where romance does not even have a mainstream. The large display tables are not full of books that anyone would consider definitive of the genre--and outside of love and HEA the genre is begin to defy any such definition. The tables are, in fact, full of the swelling and fading fads of the season.
Paranormal will have its place but it is not going to occupy centre stage forever. Vampire ChickLit, I surely hope, is likely to vanish away altogether. Right now Regency is having an upswing and unconvincing Scottish accents are everywhere, by the end of spring it might be Medievals and Southern drawls. I sincerely hope that science fiction, Polynesia and Africa, sweet polyamory and so many other things are lining up for their time in the spotlight.
In my less sympathetic moments my responses to the complaints that romance is not what it used it be (other than thanks be to the Gods) is that it is now so much bigger and so much more. In romance everyone is a minority who is going to have to search a little to find exactly the sort of material that suits them best. The only difference is that some people have only recently been introduced to this reality. Welcome to 'new' romance, there is room for everyone.