Romance fiction’s success in the E-book Market
Although genre fiction doesn’t get the best reputation out there, or the best book shelves space in the stores and libraries, it is really stealing the show when it comes to the eBook market. In fact in the eBook world, the once looked down upon genre fiction seems to be outpacing literary fiction (Wong, Jackie). Running in the front and centre of this all is romance fiction. According the New York’s Book industry study group, the categories of romance and science fiction now account for more than 20 percent of all eBook purchases (Wong, Jackie). Jackie Wong in her article states that although many publishers are worrying about how they are going to survive in this new e book market, the success of the genre fiction shows that “eBooks are lucrative as long as the reading platform fits the literary product” (Wong, Jackie). Romance has been successful in the eBook market due to the genre’s loyal readers already being accustomed to its accessibility, availability, price of the romance genre in paperback, the eBook market is a better version of all of these factors .
When one looks at the e books market, it seems that eBooks and the romance genre were meant for one another (Bosman, Julie). Publishers such as the Canadian Romance publishers Harlequin have found their perfect match (Barber, John). According to data from a research organization for the publishing industry, Romance is now ahead of general fiction, mystery, and science fiction; in fact it is now the fastest growing segment of the ereading market (Bosman, Julie). According to Matthew Shear, the executive vice president and publisher of St. Martin’s Press, Romance is becoming as popular in e- books as it is in the print editions” (Bosman, Julie). “No other readers have embraced the digital experience more readily than the insatiable consumers of romance and its numerous sub genres” (Barber). Harlequin is a good example of this trend, their increase in digital sales was more than their decline in the physical space market (Barber, John).
Why is it that romance is so ahead in the eBook market? The price of the romance eBooks is one of the factors that come into play. Romance novels are particularly cheap. Where eBooks of new fiction normally sell for about the half the $25 – $30 price of the hardcover edition, the Harlequin romance eBooks can sell as cheap as $3.99 which is only 10 percent cheaper than the original paperback that the customers of Harlequin have become accustomed to (Barber, John). This is because the approach of publishers such as Harlequin has always been “to sell as cheap as possible and sell as many copies as possible” which has worked perfectly with e books (Darbyshire, in John barber). This works really well for the avid readers of this genre, who want to read as much as they can and were able to do it cheaply but can do it even cheaper now. Following this same tradition self-publishers in the genre of romance are trying to drive the prices down even further, selling as low as 99 cents (Barber, John). For example, veteran author Jenna Petersen is selling her self-published books for only $2.99 (Barber, John). Peterson says that she “can charge a lot less to the reader and actually make more money per book” (Barber, John). This is because for a typical novel, she would receive 60 cents royalties from the sale of a $7.99 novel, but when she publishes through amazon, she makes $2 on every $2.99 sale (Barber, John). As Peterson puts it: “So I sell a third as many books and make the same amount of money” (Barber, John).
Another factor as to why romance is leading in the eBook market is accessibility and availability. Romance genre readers are voracious readers, who are always looking for new material (Wong, Jackie). “Romance buyers are buying, on average, three books a month. That buyer is really valuable” says Mr. Lynch the CEO of Barnes and noble. Therefore romance readers don’t only want their books to be cheap, they want a lot of them (Barber, John). This has always been the focus of romance publishers, such as Harlequin, “At Harlequin, for years one of the things we really focused on is providing books to women, wherever and whenever they want to shop….not having to make a separate trip was a great way for them to buy our books” (Hayes, in John barber). Romance readers were accustomed to the convenience of buying books at checkout counters; therefore the jump to digital made sense, for they can buy often and it is convenient (Barber, John). Romance readers tend to be women ages 31- 49 who go through a book or more in a week “and from the beginning they have jumped at the chance to store hundreds of titles on a single device, where the next happy ending is a download away” (Bosman, Julie). This is why romance publishers are not fretting about the closure of bookstores. Instead of doing what traditional publishers do romance books have always been able to reach out directly to their readers instead of reaching out to the bookstores. Darbyshire noted that the romance industry has done for years what the electronic market has only now pushed other authors and publishers to start addressing. Romance wisely cuts out industry gatekeepers and focuses heavily on readers. (Wong, Jackie). The romance genre has adopted their successful paperback model into a successful eBook model. In fact, the recent eBook success is similar to the paperback success when it first appeared after the Second World War (Shatzkin, Mike). It was then that mass distribution of paperbacks really caught steam. “The key to mass-market publishing was that it achieved distribution through the network of wholesalers that put magazines on newsstands and in local stores nationwide” (Shatzkin, Mike). This allowed for more copies, in more places with lower sales and distribution costs (Shatzkin, Mike). Although bookstores were only a few then, mass markets were available in tens of thousands of locations, and these mass markets were mostly genre books. Therefore just like the romance eBooks, the early romance mass market books “ had much more widespread availability…and combined with their lower prices created legions of new readers” (Shatzkin, Mike).
The eBook market also addresses the issue of availability for these hungry readers of romance. “We want to make it super convenient for readers to access that material however they choose to do it,” said Donna Hayes, the chief executive of Harlequin (Bosman, Julie). This is why publishers such as Random House are rushing to convert their backlist books into digital form. Harlequin enterprises has digitized nearly 10, 000 titles dating back to 2002. This is because romance readers are really loyal to their authors, and will go back and buy the entire backlist. According to the Romance Writers of America association, 91% of readers “are likely to seek out an author’s previously published titles after reading a novel from an author they like” (Romance Writers of America). This is what the bricks and mortars aspect was not fulfilling for the romance readers, because often time, when books were out of print or out of stock they would be hard to find, but e books are the answer to that problem. (Bosman, Julie). The backlist titles that are available on the ereaders are really popular because the print books have a short shelf life of usually a month. This way if you didn’t make it to the bookstore, you can just download them all on your ereader. (Bosman, Julie). Ereaders also make it easier for many romance purchasers who are tired of getting looks from strangers because of the racy novel covers. Once thought of something you had to hide and read, is being read in public, on book devices. The eBook market has made it all much more accessible (Bosman, Julie). Epublishing’s main forte is erotic romance, or sometimes referred to as “Romantica” (McLachlan, Sean). These books offer a romantic plot spiced up with explicit and frequent sex scenes. Sites such as AllRomance.com, where you can download romance novels, have heat indexes where the readers can rate the sexual content of their titles. What AllRomance.com found is that 97% of their sales come from titles that are rated 3 or more flames, that is material that have more graphic love scenes and more direct language (James, Lori). Many brick-and-mortar stores refuse to carry this sort of material, and many of the genre’s predominantly female readers are too shy to go buy them in person, so the eBook format is a perfect way to get around these twin obstacles (McLachlan, Sean).
Traditional book stores have ghettoized genre (Darbyshire, in John Barber). Online retailing, unlike traditional stores, loves genre where the reader browsing is organized according to genres and this is where romance has the advantage for its pure genre and a genre that is most popular among women (Barber, John). This means a lot since women make 70 percent of all the book purchases in North America (Barber, John). Therefore, where traditional bookstores ghettoize genres like mystery, science fiction and romance, for eBooks they are the dominant sellers (Barber, John). Brand and loyalty of the fan base also plays a key role for the success of the eBook form for the romance genre for publishers such as Harlequin. The name of most publishing houses, which is the brand for them, has come to mean nothing to the consumers (Shatzkin, Mike). The publishing house logo on the book, doesn’t tell the reader what to expect if they do buy it. Harlequin is the exception to this for it is “one consumer brand in publishing that means the most and provides the most equity to its owner” (Shatzkin, Mike). This is because consumers clearly recognize it “and have understandings about quality and price based on it” (Shatzkin, Mike). Harlequin has come to mean “romance genre” and therefore romance readers who consume dozens or even hundreds of harlequin titles in a year have the same logical reasoning to visit Harlequin’s website to request reminders of new publications. In fact, “Harlequin’s brand is so clear and so powerful that they can get people to subscribe to their books” and this is the same for the eBook readers who are loyal fans of the Harlequin brand (Shatzkin, Mike). The romance publishers really benefit from these loyal fans, who go on to create online romance communities and these online community bonds “not only forestall piracy…the online proliferation of happy-ever- blogs, review sites and online forums creates enormous marketing leverage to publishers – a natural advantage traditional publishers are struggling to duplicate” (Barber, John).
The success of the romance genre in eBook format is similar to its success in the paper book format. It provides the fan base of this genre everything they were accustomed to in terms of price, availability, accessibility but a better version. The avid readers who do read many books a month, now also don’t face the dilemma of what to do with the cheap paper books once they are done, for the e- reader device provides a perfect storage space for this. The effective transition from the paperback market to the eBook market has showcased how loyal the readers of the romance genre are. And perhaps, the reason romance readers have been able to switch over so smoothly is probably because genre publishing, particularly romance fiction has had eBook publication for years (Shatzkin, Mike).
Barber, John. “Romancing the tablet: How Harlequin is revolutionizing the e-book market.” Globe and Mail 14 May 2011.
Bosman, Julie. “Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive.” New York Times 8 December 2010.
James, Lori. “What’s Hot in Romance? E-Books Baby!” Publishing Perspectives. Publishing Perspectives., 3 December 2009.
McLachlan, Sean. “Ebooks from the Publisher’s Point of View.” Writing-World.com. N.P., 2008.
Romance Writers of America. “Romance Literature Statistics: Readership Statistics.” Romance Writers of America. 2009.
Shatzkin, Mike. March 13, 2011. “Ebooks are making me recall the history of mass-market publishing.” The Idea Logical Company. (blog). http://www.idealog.com/blog/ebooks-are-making-me-recall-the-history-of-mass-market-publishing Accessed September 29, 2011.
Shatzkin, Mike. March 13, 2011. “Publishers, brands, and the change to b2c.” The Idea Logical Company. (blog). http://www.idealog.com/blog/publishers-brands-and-the-change-to-b2c Accessed September 29, 2011.
Wong, Jackie. “Genre-fiction fans quell hunger with e-books.” Straight.com. Vancouver Free Press., 7 July 2011.