Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
For years, the numbers have been telling us that digital adoption among genre fiction readers is at least double that of the general and literary fiction reading audience. In fact, a recent report shows that romance, for example, makes up only 4.4 percent of print sales in the US, but a whopping 45 percent of all ebook sales. Stat after stat and survey after survey have shown similar trends for crime, fantasy and even YA (young adult) books. Yet we still seem to be trying to fit digital readers into one singular mold when we think of innovation in book tech.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried buying a book in your favorite genre but find you have to drill down three or four categories on your online bookstore website to get to the ones you want? The high-spending “whales” of reading who have cultivated specific bookish interests with time and are most particular about the titles they like have the most cumbersome shopping experience. This applies equally to readers of ebooks as well as those shopping for their print titles online.
The existing retail system, which is essentially a clickable catalogue dump of all books ever created, is flawed, and the romance, fantasy and crime readers buying in droves are doing so in spite of this broken experience.
To innovate in the digital book world, it makes so much more sense for both publishers and tech startups to start with a uniquely defined audience in mind—both in terms of designing the solution (or app or platform or business model), as well as for getting the word out to market and reaching the target user base.
As we reflect on the digital shifts that have taken place over the past couple of years, it is clear that a pattern emerges throughout the various “sunsets” and service adjustments: one size does not fit all.
On one end of the spectrum, genre readers have been completely disregarded in the design of apps that have gone on to flounder without that crucial early-adopter buy-in. On the other end, they have cannibalized the book consumption of all-you-can-consume subscription services to the detriment of the platform’s business model.
In both of these scenarios, the intended target was the elusive literary fiction digital reader: the same reader who still prefers the printed word over its digital incarnation and the serendipity of browsing the nearest brick-and-mortar independent bookstore to online shopping.
And yet the past year has also given those watching trends in digital publishing some cause for hope. A good example of the attempts to court romance readers is Simon & Schuster’s Crave app, which connects popular authors with dedicated fans through daily book segments and multimedia content. Whether or not this particular formula works, book hangovers among series readers can be harsh, and this lingering connection to a book universe and its characters is certainly an avenue to be explored by publishers for greater digital immersion (and monetization).
More recently. Book Box Club has launched offering a very specific subscription package for YA readers. For our own part, Novellic, the book club app we recently launched on the App Store, has been designed with genre fiction readers at the heart of the community-building experience. The way we see it, it seems more intuitive for readers to congregate around specific interests and book themes, and then leverage these human connections for better book recommendations and purchasing experience.
With the current dynamics of ebook distribution being what they are, it is virtually impossible for a new book commerce platform to swashbuckle in and disrupt the overall digital market, as many large chain supermarkets and even Apple have come to realize. The impediments to that are high and include both business hurdles—a dominant incumbent in the form of Amazon—as well as technical challenges such as publishers’ insistence on user-unfriendly anti-piracy measures, otherwise known as DRM.
However, silos of innovation can and will take place along fiction genre lines, and those are the spaces to watch for new products that are sure to gain traction. The earthquakes that have the potential to shift the wider book business models will start as small tremors with the likes of romance, sci-fi, crime and fantasy.
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