What’s Hot in Romance? E-books, Baby!

In Digital by Guest Contributor

By Lori James

Lori James

PALM HARBOR, FL: Digital publishing is a popular topic at the moment, and it should be. During a time when our overall world-wide economy is struggling, digital sales are up, way up. The top selling genre? Romance. At AllRomance.com we’re carefully watching this rapidly shifting market. With over 30,000 romance titles, and close to $3 million in annualized sales, we’re in a unique position to monitor trends in the industry. One thing we can report, is that 2009 has been a very good year.

All Romance Ebooks, LLC opened the doors to our first digital bookstore in November of 2006. We wanted to create a store where readers could come and buy all the Romance they need from all the publishers they love. The phrase became our tagline and the store, aptly named All Romance, opened with 18 participating publishers and close to 2,000 titles. In our three years in business we’ve not only experienced tremendous growth, but the digital industry in general has as well. We keep abreast of technology, try to look at and evaluate all of the new e-book readers, communicate frequently with publishers, and attend trade shows. But at the end of the day, there’s one thing driving this big beautiful digital bus: the reader.

Readers come to our site every day and cast their vote to support reading digitally with their dollars. The average price point of a single e-book is around $4.67, a small price to pay for hours of escapist entertainment with a guaranteed happily-ever-after. Not only are readers spending more on e-books, the e-book reading population is growing, and it’s growing fast. We’ve experienced a 250% increase in our customer base this year.

Myth: Digital reading is only for techies

Not true. Digital reading is for your grandma. We know this because A) we spent thirty minutes helping her download and install Adobe Digital Editions yesterday so she could read the latest Harlequin Blaze, and B) the “over 60” demographic grew significantly for us in 2009.

According to RWA’s 2009 Reader Statistics, “the heart of the U.S. romance novel readership is women aged 31-49 who are currently in a romantic relationship.” We’re seeing something slightly different. Although it’s clear woman and men (10% of our customers are male) of all ages are reading digitally, only 40% of our customers are under 30. While it’s true that the younger folks who are more comfortable with technology are still buying the bulk of digital romance novels, the tides are definitely shifting.

Myth: New York publishers are leading the digital world

Although there are many strong advocates for digital among the traditional print publishers, some of whom are innovative role models, they aren’t leading in terms of sales. An important factor here is Digital Rights Management, a form of encryption.

Piracy is the issue that drives publishers toward the decision to employ DRM, and we sell both encrypted and unencrypted files on our site. What we’ve come to understand is that romance readers don’t like DRM. Yes, that’s a very broad and general statement, but since only 3% of our sales from 2008 and 2009 were for DRM titles, I think we can make it. Even though we saw several new and compelling reading devices introduced this year and experienced overall growth in the digital market, there’s been no increase in the market share for DRM sales.

Which publishers are forgoing the use of DRM? For the most part, that would be the indie presses, the same publishers who were early adopters of digital publishing.

Myth: Microsoft is king

Where have we seen growth? Adobe is by and large our customer’s most preferred file format. With about 70% of the files downloaded being Adobe, the race here isn’t even close. Their position is solid and has remained fairly steady since we opened our doors. Most computer users have read documents with Adobe Reader and they find the transition to using the software to read books simple and easy.

More interesting is what’s been happening with second place. We have what essentially amounts to a 3-way tie between the LIT (MS Reader), PRC (MobiPocket), and Epub (Open e-book) formats with both MS Reader and MobiPocket losing market share to the more versatile and smart phone-friendly Epub.

Myth: Romance = Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy and girl live happily-ever-after.

Romance is also about werewolves falling in love with girls. Sometimes it’s about two or more boys falling in love with a girl. It’s even about boys falling in love with boys. Formulaic is out. Edgy is in.

In 2009 we saw a 22% decline in straight contemporary. What were the niche sub-genres in which we saw a significant increase? Rubenesque (i.e. stories that feature women with curves), Paranormal, Werewolves and Gay Fiction—and the hotter the better. At least in terms of sales. At All Romance we have publishers rate the sexual content of their titles using our Heat Index and we provide those ratings to our customers. A full 97% of our sales are rated 3 or more flames, that’s the point at which love scenes start to become more graphic and the language more direct.

Myth: Reading digitally is expensive and requires special gadgets

If you have a computer, laptop, PDA or smart phone, you can probably read an e-book on it. You can come to either AllRomance.com (our romance specialty store) or OmniLit.com (our general bookstore) and find well over 100 free reads to test out. You can download Adobe Reader, MS Reader, Stanza, Mobipocket, eReader, and a host of other reading software programs at no cost. You can even gift one of our freebie e-books to a friend and let them try it.

Having said that, I have to admit that the gadgets are cool. This holiday season is predicted to be huge for the e-book industry, with e-book readers holding a top position on many a bibliophile’s wish list. If Santa delivers this Christmas, we predict digital publishers will be having very happy New Year.

Lori James is the COO of All Romance Ebooks, LLC.

CONTACT: Lori James directly.

SHOP: The All Romance Ebooks online bookstore.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.