DBW12 – What publishing can learn from the romance genre

The romance genre is an interesting one. Of all the genres, it sells the most ebooks, probably because you can read a romance book with some privacy on an ereader. The romance panel had some interesting insights into ebook publishing, which I think other publishers can learn from and apply to their own companies. The panel consisted of Lori James, Founding Partner and Chief Operating Officer, All Romance eBooks (ARe), Liate Stehlik, Senior Vice President and Publisher, William Morrow/Harper Voyager/Avon Books, Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc., and Angela James, Executive Editor, Carina Press.

Here’s what they had to say:

  • iOS dominates 80% of the share of sales
  • 35% of readers purchase at major retail stores
  • 48% purchase at indie ebook retailers
  • Readers have very specific preferences for the types of romance readers
  • Romance reader demographics: 60% are 18-39 years old, 89% are female, most are married, well-educated, have children, and work outside the home
  • Romance novels are purchased every 5 seconds

The three keys to success are quality, faster, and deeper. Quality is the content and the format. Faster means you can move quickly in the marketplace, by streamlining production, organizing structure, and implementing planning.

Romance readers are early adopters of the digital format, which means romance publishers have “always had to step up their game.”

Word-of-mouth is big for digital publishers, and timing is everything. Discovery is the biggest issue for ebooks, since many consumers buy books on impulse while browsing physical stores.

Other advice:

  • Use net galleys
  • Have a plan but feel free to deviate from it
  • Don’t get stuck on a price
  • Know and learn about the consumer

Going more in-depth on those last two points, price is key. According to the research, 13% of readers download free ebooks, 17% pay between 99 cents to $2.99, and 37% pay between $3-4.99. $2.99 and under is more of a promotional opportunity. Pre-orders can also be a good marketing tool. One example is to charge $4.99 for a pre-order, and then switch to $6.99 or $7.99. This rewards the avid fan and gives people an incentive to pre-order. Word count is another pricing point. Longer works can be more expensive (the price should convey the length of the book).

Authors should also be thought of as customers. What do they want from publishers? Other customers publisher should consider is the end user/consumer, author, and retailers.

DRM (Digital Rights Management)

This topic seemed important enough to warrant a bold type. Many publishers are concerned about piracy, which is understandable. But according to romance publishers, DRM titles only account for 4% sales revenue, although they are 91% of inventory. This menas 96% of sales are non-DRM.

Why are readers averse to DRM?

  • They want to share
  • They want to print
  • Access is too complicated (you can’t read DRM titles on multiple devices)
  • They want to convert to read on multiple platforms

Sharing is a huge part of discoverability, which as I mentioned earlier is the biggest issue with ebooks. Additionally, most piracy outside of the U.S. is because the ebooks are not available in all countries. Most readers are honest people, so there seems to be an easy solution.


Another hot topic in the publishing industry. While it be be a viable option for some authors, having a publisher means writers can focus more on the creative side. There’s a trend for self-published authors to eventually turn to publishers, if they’re doing well. On the other hand, having an established name with a huge fan base means larger success at self-publishing.


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