E-books Dominate Romantic Fiction
The advent of the e-book and its growing success is revolutionizing the book publishing industry. As part of a dynamic industry publishers must keep up with these new technological innovations in order to reach both creative and economic success. As book publishing undergoes a transition (Cole, 2010) e-books are becoming more mainstream with such digital devices expected to “be in the hands of 15 percent to 20 percent of the developed world’s population by 2015” (Bain & Company Inc., 2011, p.1). With approximately 64 percent of all publishers producing e-books (E-book Trends by the Numbers, 2010), e-books continue to take up real-estate in the publishing marketplace. This is particularly true for fiction. This paper will illustrate that fiction has played a significant role in the success of e-books especially when it comes to romantic fiction. I will argue that the portability, cost, and the ability to purchase numerous e-books at a time have resulted in e-books dominating romantic fiction.
It is important to recognize that this emergence of e-books does not mean the death of the traditional print publishing industry. Though print sales are falling and hardback fiction is becoming a distant memory (Lloyd, 2008), many avid readers who have adopted digital formats state that they continue to read print books (Bain & Company Inc., 2011). The reasoning behind this trend varies from an attachment to the traditional print on paper experience to the price of e-readers to challenges associated with reading on a screen (Bain & Company Inc., 2011). Despite the presence of print books, however, there has been a clear shift in how leisure time is spent. Especially in the younger generations, leisure time has shifted away from print books to the Internet (Lloyd, 2011) with social media, blogs, and online reading. This has consequently driven the publishing industry to adopt digital strategies.
With these new digital strategies, readers have become more accepting of e-readers. As of 2010, 66 percent of trade publishers were publishing e-books along with print books (E-book Trends by the Numbers, 2010). Christmas of 2010 was anticipated to be the season of the e-reader (Shatzkin, 2011). The prediction proved true resulting in a surge in e-book sales and digital technology adoption that has continued throughout 2011 (Shatzkin, 2011). With the growing popularity of e-books, e-book specific statistics have emerged. For instance, according to 2010-2011 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics & Buying Behaviors Annual Review, fiction comprised 61 percent of the unit sales for 2010 and 51 percent of the revenue (Milliot, 2011). In fact, of the top ten e-book genres only one was nonfiction (Milliot, 2011). Thus, fiction is recognized as the chief sales driver of e-books and has played a significant role in the success of e-books.
Such success relates specifically to romantic fiction. Romantic fiction is making a natural move away from traditional print towards e-books. When avid romantic fiction readers proved to be early adopters of e-book technology, romantic fiction quickly earned a reputation as an over-performer in the digital realm (Biba, 2010). This success is evident by the statistics. For instance, the e-book market share of romantic fiction was 14 percent, which is as much as seven times the print market share of romantic fiction (Biba, 2010). Moreover, romantic fiction ranks number one on a Top Ten Best-Selling eBook Genres list for 2011 (Greene, 2011) illustrating that this genre continues to flourish in the e-book marketplace. As aforementioned, the evident success of romantic fiction in the e-book marketplace is credited to the portability, cost, and easy-storage of e-books as well as the ability to purchase numerous e-books at once.
First, e-books are portable. When it comes to fictions and narratives, one of the inherent benefits of e-books is often that they are so transportable (Wong, 2011). This is significant because when it comes to romantic fiction, readers generally enjoy reading books one immediately after the other. With e-readers, readers are not only able to carry several books in one portable device at a time, but a reader can also switch among the books with ease (Adin, 2011). Unlike with nonfiction and reference books where people may feel compelled to go back and check a name or date and thus want a print copy of the book on their bookshelves, many readers do not see the value in lining their bookshelves with romantic fiction.
Moreover, portability is an easy sell to romantic fiction readers because romance is most commonly read while on the go. For instance, romance readers typically read these books while commuting, traveling or on vacation and as many as 29 percent of romance readers carry a romantic fiction novel with them at all times (Romance Writers of America, 2011b). Portability therefore ensures that these avid romance readers can easily carry their books in a purse, briefcase, backpack or even a carryon bag. While mass-market paperback books are small and light enough that they may be considered portable, it is critical to note that romance readers typically begin and finish a novel within a week (Romance Writers of America, 2011b). This means it is highly unlikely an avid romantic fiction reader will only be carrying one novel at a time. Since the weight of mass-market paperbacks quickly adds up, many romantic fiction readers have come to understand portability as an intrinsic benefit of e-books.
With this portability comes easy storage. E-readers save space by storing numerous e-books on a single device. This is imperative because many romantic fiction readers, like mystery novel readers, enjoy reading multiple books in a row. Upon completion, however, readers find that the books simply occupy space (Wong, 2011). However, with e-readers, readers can carry what is essentially a portable library with them. Readers can now use the space in their book closets, bookshelves or libraries for something else because an e-reader takes no more room than a laptop or single print book.
Next, cost has been instrumental in romantic fiction readers switching from print to e-books. Romantic fiction readers are known to be ravenous (Wong, 2011). Rarely will you find a romantic fiction reader who will simply read one romance novel and then go on a hiatus. Romantic fiction readers read fast and in rapid succession. As a result, e-books offer a critical advantage in that they are a cost safer.
Specifically, many readers who typically read nonfiction and reference books consider romantic fiction to be a cheap read (Adin, 2011). This means that when these readers do read romantic fiction they are unwilling to pay even the accepted mass-market paperback cost (Adin, 2011). With the advent of e-books and digital technology they no longer have to. Instead, e-books offer what is often an even cheaper alternative. The low cost of e-books means that readers who do not typically read romantic fiction can purchase it cheaply while broadening their reading (Adin, 2011). This has consequently opened up the market to people who do not typically read these books, expanding the demographic and resulting in more sales.
Additionally, romantic fiction is significantly cheaper in print form than other genres. Examining the Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. website reveals that romantic fiction print books are so low cost that there is not a drastic price difference between that of a romance print book and a romance e-book (Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 2000-2011). The website allows a buyer to shop in either the bookstore or the eBook store. If a book is available in both formats, Harlequin indicates this so that the reader can look at the cost of each format and choose the one that best suits his/her budget and his/her needs.
A third benefit of the shift to e-books is that the e-book marketplace supports these voracious readers by enabling them to purchase multiple books at once. This makes the shift from print books to e-books easy for genre-fiction consumers such as romantic fiction readers who are constantly seeking new material. Recently, mystery novel readers stated at a conference that they read several books a week (Wong, 2011). This holds true for romantic fiction readers as well. Romantic fiction is thought to be relatively inexpensive in comparison to other genres and is recognized for providing an escape for readers from everyday life. It is partially due to this that romantic fiction readers have developed a hunger for these books making them the fastest-growing category for e-books (Wong, 2011). Canada’s own Harlequin Enterprises leads as a top seller (Wong, 2011). E-books satisfy this hunger by enabling the purchase of numerous e-books at once, driving romantic fiction readers to the e-book market.
In addition, many romantic fiction authors who have had works back-listed recognize the success of the e-book and have started to make these back-listed titles available as e-books. For instance, in May 2011 Backlist eBooks, a group of previously print-published authors, organized a five day sale on Smashwords (Coker, 2011). Each of the backlist titles had a coupon code (Coker, 2011) that enabled readers to purchase a title that had gone out of print for a cheaper price as an e-book. Many of these back-listed titles were romantic fiction (Coker, 2011). Therefore, not only are readers able to purchase multiple romantic fiction e-books at once but they have more titles to choose from including the back-list.
Furthermore, while romantic fiction is understood as the foundation of the mass-market paperback marketplace, the ability to buy e-books supports ravenous romantic fiction readers. With advertisements in each romantic fiction book featuring similar novels, romantic fiction readers often buy immediately (Romance Writers of America, 2011b). In fact, impulse buys actually outnumber planned purchases (Romance Writers of America, 2011b). Since the e-reader provides easy storage, there is no concern about whether or not a reader will have space for the new book. Instead, a romance reader can read a summary, get hooked, and purchase it as an e-book knowing it will simply load onto the same device. It is this ease that enables such impulse buys. If a reader were to purchase a print book he/she would have the opportunity to debate making the purchase all the way to the bookstore or in the process of navigating to the website. The e-reader reduces this time by enabling the purchase of e-books on the e-reader itself. This characterizes the romantic fiction shift to e-books as one dominated largely by impulse buys.
In conclusion, with the growing use of the Internet and other such technologies the advent of the e-book should not be too shocking to the publishing industry. The e-book simply provides a new format for the content of books. It is important to remember that though the content of some books are better served by e-books, other books continue to occupy the print market including colour-laden artistic works. The simple fact that e-books exist does not mean every book will be converted into one. Instead, publishers can work on a case-by-case basis and see what the success or failure of a specific genre reveals about which formats a title should be published in. Moreover, as this study of romantic fiction indicates it is critical for publishers to listen to reader preference. This is illustrated by the fact that the portability, cost, and the ability to purchase numerous e-books at once are greatly valued by romantic fiction readers. This reader preference has caused a clear shift from the publication of romantic fiction as print books to the publication of romantic fiction as e-books. While in 2009 romantic fiction was the number three category in e-books by 2010 it had moved up as the number two category (Romance Writers of America, 2011a). Taking into account both reader preference and the current statistics, it is clear that e-books dominate the romantic fiction genre and given more time may successfully conquer it.
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