Fixing the Broken Experience of Genre Fiction Retail Online

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

publishers, sales, retail, genre fiction, appsFor 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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3 thoughts on “Fixing the Broken Experience of Genre Fiction Retail Online

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Excellent advice! It’s one of the few ways an ebook retailer can challenge that scowling, 800-pound gorilla in the smiley-arrow sweatshirt. I’d suggest:

    1. Target a genre with the app, as you suggest, but perhaps include a more-clumsy-but-not-awful way to purchase almost any ebook. For instance, a fan of romantic fiction may want to buy an occasional biography or cookbook. Doing that will keep them using that app.

    2. Be less Big Brotherish about tracking reading tastes. Let users describe their tastes themselves and click to say, “Show me more books like this” and “Show me more books by this author.” That’ll set this app off from that prying gorilla.

    3. Lots of discovery tools and discussion groups. Let selected readers manage them.

    4. Include multiple publishers, but also offer those publishers a space if there own and a way to stay in touch with readers who want to do so. That’s not something that control-freak gorilla wants to do. Work to make publishers like selling ebooks there. It gives them a good alternative to the gorilla. They’re respond by puffing it in their advertising.

    5. Come up with ways to let readers get books for free on discounted without triggered the gorilla’s ‘we get the same discount’ demand. One way would be a club that offers a choice of two new ebooks from new authors each month.

    6. Give them reasons to open the app other than to read ebooks. Create blogs and readers’ discussion groups. The more they use the app for other purposes, the more they will use it for reading.

    7. Give each customer a personalized database of ebooks they have read and allow them to add notes to it. That’ll let them find a book they read years before whose title they can’t remember.

    8. Don’t bother with making the app UI look like bookshelves or a book. Serious readers left behind the need for that long ago.

    9. Allow small publishers and independent authors multiple ways to get included, including Smashwords. Multiple uploads get to be a pain.

    1. Candide

      Great suggestions Michael! I love every one of them – that’s really why we felt book clubs make sense to be the focal point of more social bookselling.

    2. Fred Flinstone, IV

      @Michael W. Perry

      Michael, I’ve seen a lot of your fascinating posts, congrats on having the time to communicate so prodigiously.

      Would you mind sharing some of the business and software projects you’ve developed over the years? It would be great to know what general background fuels your contributions.




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