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Why Big Publishers Think Genre Fiction Like Sci-Fi Is the Future of E-Books

27 June 2013

From Wired:

One of the biggest success stories in U.S. publishing in recent years has been the continued growth of digital book publishing. Last year, total revenue for e-book sales in the United States reached $3.04 billion, a 44.2% increase on 2011′s numbers and a figure all the more impressive when you realize that growth is additive to the print publishing industry. Even more surprising, publishers have focused much of their attention on genres like sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and romance fiction – markets that have traditionally lagged behind “literary fiction” in terms of sales.

In the last few months, however, Random House and Harper Collins launched their first digital-only imprints, and all of them focused on genre fiction. Random House announced the sci-fi/fantasy line Hydra, mystery line Alibi, “new adult”-targeted Flirt and romance-centric Loveswept, while Harper Collins created the digital mystery imprint Witness in April. Although this focus on genre fiction might seem counter-intuitive according to traditional print publishing sales, Random House VP and digital publishing director Allison Dobson says there’s a simple reason for it: The digital audience wants different things.

“Certain categories [of eBooks] have a much larger digital adoption than others,” Dobson said. “The genres were among the first where readers took to the digital format and the ratio of readers of digital, as opposed to physical, are much, much higher.” In the case of some genre titles, as much as 60 to 70 percent of the sales are digital. “I think there is an enormous audience in digital right now,” Dobson said. “It’s actually where the action is.”

. . . .

But the digital delivery system also offers immediacy and ease of access for material that often is serialized and written to make you want to know what happens next, as soon as possible. Liate Stehlik, senior vice president and publisher at Harper Collins, subscribes to that idea, at least partially. Genre fans, she says, became “early adopters” of the digital format because e-books are the optimal format “for people who want to read a lot of books, quickly and frequently. Digital has replaced the paperback, certainly the paperback originals. I think the audience that gravitated to eBooks first really was that voracious reader, reading for entertainment, reading multiple books in a month across multiple genres.”

Link to the rest at Wired and thanks to Abel for the tip.

Ebooks, Fantasy/SciFi

28 Comments to “Why Big Publishers Think Genre Fiction Like Sci-Fi Is the Future of E-Books”

  1. I’m getting whiplash with these people.

    • Hahahaha!

      And whatever happened to the 25-30% ebook plateau? I bet there’s a lot of interesting information about demographics in these genres, and I’d also bet that they are mostly younger, tending to read on mobile devices like smartphones, and that they tend to read an awful lot of books.

  2. As swashbuckling action-adventure writer, this makes me happy to read.

  3. Can “immediacy” substitute for “synergy” in buzz-word bingo?

  4. As a collector of vintage pulp paperbacks, I can say that while I love the “look and feel” of an old paperback, the format honestly isn’t the easiest to read. These days I’ll gladly pick up an ebook copy if the alternative is a badly-produced, falling apart paperback that smells mildly of cigarettes and cat piss.

    Oh yeah…that “book smell”…so wonderful…not.

    Also, I think not only are “genre fiction” readers less picky about the format in which their stories are delivered, some genres, such as sci-fi and fantasy, appeal to readers who’re already comfortable with more advanced technologies (tablets, smart phones, etc.), and actually think it’s “cool” to be able to read books in a digital format.

    • Suburbanbanshee

      Heh. Try buying a book in a hippie-run store with rose and other terrible incense (and possibly drug) smells infiltrating every book, cover to cover. There’s nothing like airing out books until they stop smelling nasty….

      Of course, the best thing is buying books in a store that’s a front for a gambling operation, while the cops are surveilling it. Yep, nothing like independent bookstores and that old book smell. 🙂

    • Digital appeals to romance readers as well – no more having to show those awful heaving-bosom covers in public. And if someone asks what you’re reading, you can say War and Peace – and actually have it on screen by the time they ask to look.

      • Trust me, I can feel just as guilty about the sorts of “gun porn” I often read…

        “What’s that you’re reading?”

        “Oh, just a book about a guy called The Death Merchant, who is running around NYC with a pair of enormous handguns, getting into shootouts with Russian spies, and cackling all the while about the Cosmic Lord of Death.”

        “Oh…” [Backs away slowly]

  5. “sci-fi/fantasy”

    P.G.

    Ah, KRAP!

    More ******* Werewolves with incredible sexual prowess and smelling like chanel romping through space.

    Ptui!

    brendan

  6. My novel, Front Row Center, was published in pdf format on CD-ROM back in 2008. Guess I was ahead of the curve. That decision was based on the >292,200 word count–way too large for traditional print.

  7. I’m not sure where he’s getting these numbers. Romance has accounted for more than 50 percent of paperback sales for years. Romance fans were also early adapters of ebook readers, just as soon as we figured out in our pretty little heads how to use them.

    • Yup. As soon as I read the phrase ‘markets that have traditionally lagged behind “literary fiction” in terms of sales’, my bogometer pegged. The whole instrument panel of my brain is now a smoking ruin.

      I need not to read a whopper like that first thing in the morning.

      • Thank you. That part had me re-reading several times. It makes no sense. It’s not congruent with reality.

        • Since when have the BPHs been congruent with reality, Jamie? As D.L. Shutter pointed out on a post yesterday, Hugh Howie had to explain how KDP works to some BPH execs.

          • Suburbanbanshee

            Well, every literary fiction sale is worth a thousand of that terrible cheap genre stuff that the plebs read.

  8. “Romance fans were also early adapters of ebook readers, just as soon as we figured out in our pretty little heads how to use them.”

    And that no one could see the cover of what you were reading in the office breakroom. 🙂 I’m not knocking ROM at all, just that the covers have a gotten very risque. Not that Fabio ripping bodices open was particularly tame back in the day.

  9. About those covers. Sigh. Some fans love them, many romance writers do not. But where we’re all in agreement is that romance doesn’t get the respect it deserves, even from the well-intentioned. Recently, I had a SP YA writer tell me my rom-com should do well when it’s finally published because “lots of housewives read them.” in today’s economy, with two income households the norm, if we were only selling to housewives, our sales would be a much smaller share of the market. So hiding those clench covers keeps us from having to justify our reading tastes to the ill-informed.

  10. This:
    ________________________________________
    Liate Stehlik, senior vice president and publisher at Harper Collins, subscribes to that idea, at least partially. Genre fans, she says, became “early adopters” of the digital format because e-books are the optimal format “for people who want to read a lot of books, quickly and frequently. Digital has replaced the paperback, certainly the paperback originals. I think the audience that gravitated to eBooks first really was that voracious reader, reading for entertainment, reading multiple books in a month across multiple genres.”
    __________________________

    Like, duh!
    Who else but voracious readers could justify $300+ to buy a device *solely* for reading?

    *Now* they’re noticing?
    I know those folks don’t get out much but once every six years?

    More, they’re talking of early adopters as if we weren’t already *past* that stage. eBook adoption is past early adopters and heavy readers and moved into latecomers and casual readers; the latter are the main reason tablets and smartphones are increasingly important ebook venues, they’re the means to appeal to the 3-books a year crowd. And those are Legion…

    Oh, well; at least they got off the “guardians of culture” kick, at least for a while.

    • Yes, agree with you re: Stehlik stating the obvious. Avid readers have always read more than normal readers LOL. And they are adaptable to media.

      But Stehlik forgot one thing — not all those first eBook readers read “for entertainment.” Many of them were IT people who read non-fiction, manuals, guides, books like that. I mean, IT people — we’re used to eBooks. Back in the days when we had to read manuals in Courier font on tiny green/amber monitors. I think IT people are the first eBook readers 🙂

      So those “early adopters” that Stehlik referred to are really the second wave. The third wave of eBook readers, IMHO, are those who have balked at eBooks of any kind, preferring printed books, but are now exploring their options, trying to overcome their possible fear of technology or the fact that you don’t have to drive to the bookstore or wait for your book order to arrive. You can just click, download, read.

      I think there will be even more eBook fans — of any genre — if Kindles and iPads become cheaper to buy, and public libraries increase their eBooks for borrowing.

      • By my reckoning that would be the third, possibly the fourth.

        IT screen readers were first, no question. Going back to mainframes and desktop PCs. That gave us Gutenberg.

        Second wave; the PDA era from 1996 on. Gave us Peanut Press, Rosetta, OpenEbook/LIT, and Mobi format.

        Third wave; the early pre-Kindle readers from the Rocket ereader through the first Sonys. Gave us the first built-in ebookstores and walled gardens, pus direct to ereader downloads.

        (You can even sandwich the MultiMediaPC “coffee table” CD-ROMs in there as a fourth wave but those were something of a dead end. At least so far.)

        Each wave crested higher and moved further away from us techies and hobbyists until it hit the mainstream with the Kindle era.

        The only question now is how deep ebooks will get among casual readers. If ebooks cut deep into that market, the bread-n-butter of the celebrity pbook market, the blood will flow freely in the glass towers. 🙂

        • Good points! More waves out there!

          With eBooks becoming the norm for school textbooks both in grade school and universities, I think eBooks will become ubiquitous very soon, especially if the prices of eBooks stay below printed books.

          Not just for YA and NA, but I’m hearing anecdotal stories of seniors and retirees considering Kindle and iPads because they can change the font size and backlighting to help them read better. That is going to increase readership as well.

  11. Don’t know where he’s getting his numbers from. According to the RWA website (http://www.rwa.org/), romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in estimated revenue for 2012 while classic literary fiction generated only a third of that figure($470.5 million).

    • And I bet the litfic number includes all the books purchased for educational programs.

    • Yeah, this has to be the first time I’ve seen someone mention literary as one of the “major” divisions of fiction. And very agreed with Genevieve that it probably includes every book sold to schools for required reading.

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