Thursday, October 11, 2007

Romance and e-Publishing Take Hits

This evening, while taking a break from writing, I cruised the blogosphere for twenty minutes. I stopped by The Rejecter's website, a place that I enjoy visiting despite the frequent gaps in posting. Her site says she's an assistant to a literary agent in New York.

Tuesday's blog here was about e-books. The Rejecter had a specific point of view, but it was the comment trail that really caught my attention. In addition to slamming e-publishing, the commenters decided to take a detour to denigrate romance.

Of course, I can't resist responding.

Since I'm a romance writer, let me start there (stats courtesy of RWA).

Did you know that:

  • In 2006, romance outsold every market category with the exception of religion/inspirational?
  • Romance represents 26.4% of all books sold?
  • In 2006, romance generated $1.37 billion in sales? Compare that to sci-fi/fantasy ($495 million), literary fiction ($448 million), and mysteries ($422 million)? You did note the difference between billions and millions, didn't you?

Romance spawned some of the best-selling authors on the market today. I've attended several talks by Janet Evanovich, who was very upfront in talking about her first twelve books, which were sold to Harlequin. She says, when she couldn't stand to write the phrase "pulsing male member" one more time, she created Stephanie Plum.

Nora Roberts, who is famous as a romance writer, also started with Harlequin/Silhouette category romances. She wrote more than eighty of them. Today, in addition to her sweeping romantic sagas, she writes a very popular futuristic mystery series as J.D. Robb.

Before you knock category romance, just try writing one. It ain't easy. I know. I attempted to write a Harlequin years ago, thinking I could knock it off in no time at all. I retired defeated. Like haiku, the format is strictly defined and very restrictive.

The two highest selling fiction genres (romance and sci-fi) were the first two genres to sell online. I suspect part of the reason is that readers in both genres read many, many books in a year. The convenience and (generally) shorter lengths of e-books made them popular with readers.

Erotic romance began online with e-publishers like Ellora's Cave and Loose Id. Once traditional New York publishers realized how popular the sub-genre was becoming, they came calling. Many erotic romance writers who started out online now write for both traditional publishers like Berkley, NAL, Kensington, Avon, Ballentine, Pocket and Signet AND for their former e-publishers. I also know several writers who were FIRST published in print and who then sought out e-book contracts, too.

I've said this so often on this blog that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. The publishing industry is waiting for a viable e-reading device that will capture the public's attention the way the iPod did for the music industry. I don't know if the Kindle will be that device. I certainly hope so.

For those of you not familiar with the Amazon Kindle, it is a wireless e-reader that uses Mobipocket to permit it to utilize multiple formats. It's rumored that Amazon will release it later this month. The Kindle will be able to download magazines and newspapers in addition to books.

I've already reported on the survey at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which indicated the e-book was selected by respondents as the #1 choice for the area of major growth in the future.

On Monday, September 24th, Harlequin issued a press release, announcing they have become "the first major publisher to make their complete front-list catalog available in the eBook format."

The major publishing conglomerates are racing to digitize their stock. While one of the major reasons for this is POD technology, it will be interesting to see how many titles are available as a "Kindle edition" when the e-reading device finally comes to market.

I want to specifically address two comments--one made by The Rejecter herself and the other made by one of her commenters.

To The Rejecter who said: As with any new thing that comes along unexpectedly and alternately revolutionizes/threatens your entire industry, it takes time to figure out how it's going to work. With the internet it's especially hard because things are constantly changing . . . What publishers have discovered, for the most part, is that e-Books are unprofitable.

I couldn't agree more with the first part of your statement. Digitization and POD technology ARE changing the face of publishing.

However, I take exception to your last sentence. I suspect you're so used to thinking of "publishers" as the six or seven mega-conglomerates which own the major houses that your view is colored by that filter. It's hard to envision a world in which these corporations won't dominate.

My contention is, among the needed adjustments, our definition of "publisher" will change, too. Digitization and POD technology will democratize publishing in a way that nothing has since the Gutenberg press.

Prior to Gutenberg, only the educated wealthy owned books. That changed.

Prior to digitization and POD technology, only wealthy corporations owned the means to publish. That, too, will change.

Booksellers and libraries--two industries in desperate need of an overhaul--are scrambling right now to find their places in the digital world. I'm guessing, in their quest for survival, they are going to move across the dividing line into publishing themselves. And I suspect that will only be the first wave of definition change.

A commenter posted the following on The Rejecter's site: No one is denying that there is a market for them [e-books]. It's just not a big one, nor will it likely ever be a major portion of the industry.

To her, I say: Let's see what the next fourteen months brings. Come back, and let's talk again in December, 2008.


Maria Zannini said...

If I'm ever put on trial, I'm hiring you as my lawyer. LOL

Great post, Maya.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, Maria.

You set the pace for us in our first writing day yesterday. Keep it up today!!

angeleque said...

Great post and great comment.

sophiya said...

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