Posted on October 30, 2013 in Archive

Traditional publishers are fiddling with digital first


Traditional publishers today are struggling to come up with ideas that incorporate sales approaches for digital first as well as print books. They have a few ideas, but none are new and exciting. That’s why it’s fantastic to see publishers who specialize in the romance genre experimenting with digital first.

This blog post on the Dear Author website documents many of the new business models and tactics being attempted, and I have to say – most of them are quite clever. Romance novels are not exactly expensive to begin with (many of the titles mentioned in the post don’t exceed more than five American dollars in price), but as an example, the publisher Avon has been branching out into price experimentation. Alongside HarperCollins, they have been greatly reducing the price of backlist titles in order to entice in new readers. In the last two years, some titles have been sold for as little as 99 cents. Because the books are digital first, publishers have the freedom to change the pricing to meet demands every week, if they see fit. Some ebooks are even offered as free downloads on Goodreads for a limited time.

They do eventually see profit though, don’t worry – discounting a series by one author usually leads to increase in sales across the board for them, regardless of discount. Samhain used this method to actually push titles onto various bestsellers lists, and then promote backlist titles alongside it. Once a book has been on a bestselling list, it isn’t hard to sell more copies.

Romance novel publishers are also paying close attention to outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and the “blogosphere” to find out what’s in demand with fans of the genre. If something appears to be in high demand on social media, then publishers immediately get to work to meet that demand by acquiring titles or convincing established authors to create the required content for them.

Serialisation is another route that some publishers are taking (which you’ll recognize as, if you’ve read my other recent blog, something of a theme of the week). Book sections or chapters are being released in monthly stages, which helps to increase readership. In romance novels, this is becoming more and more common – quick bursts of whispering soft nothings and flashes of flesh aren’t enough for readers any more. This is because all publishers recognise the value of serialisation – hook readers in and gain a customer and reader for life.

Liquid state - romance publishers transition to digital before traditional publishers

Throughout all the research I conducted for this article, this is by far the best romance cover I’ve seen.

If you scroll down the Dear Author blog, however, some of the comments from regular readers show that many readers outside of the U.S. are not eligible for cheaper pricing (probably due to terms and conditions placed by ebook retailers such as Amazon). I know that this most likely isn’t the fault of the publisher, but it is still disappointing to see that only a limited portion of the market is available to be guinea pigs for this literary experimentation.

There are good reasons why the romance genre is popular for digital first. Length of book is one aspect – most romance books on bookshelves today aren’t long affairs (no pun intended), so readers get through ‘em fast – if more content is available online, then it can be accessed faster by the reader, which makes everyone happy.

Additionally, judging by the titles (and the illustrative/photographic book covers) available on the Avon Romance website, this is a market that is still primarily aimed at women. And if we’ve learnt anything from the ’50 Shades of Grey’ phenomena, it’s that ebook copies sell well if the title or content is well known but adult only content. Most women on the train in the morning with a copy didn’t want to pull out a paperback of the series for all to stare and judge, so they opt for the ebook version. Now you can read ‘Saved by the Rancher’ without questions at the in-laws, if you wish!

The big question to come out of this, though, is this – why is fiddling and experimentation only happening in the romance genre of digital first ebooks? Surely science fiction would be another great market to try these techniques on. Alternatively, why not the young adult genre? And if other genres are experimenting, why isn’t it more noticeable? All of these options would be viable in a number of markets – not just romance. Perhaps the production time for a romance novel script is vastly different to every other genre in the world, so pricing has to remain fixed to cover costs and author advances. There might be other factors – I don’t know. But other publishers who specialise in different genres should branch out and give experimentation a go, too. Why should romance readers have all the fun?

Original image from Taken from