Publishers Weekly on Romance Readers

Jane Litte, Angela James, Malle Vallik and I are quoted in an amazing article about romance readers and digital books. Here’s the catch: much like a book that rocks in the content but makes you cringe in embarrassment at the cover, you must skip past the headline to get to the good part.

Well, no, you can’t really skip it because it’s the first thing you see, so let’s get to that first:

When it comes to format, romance readers are promiscuous

Just like authors have no control the cover art or titles of their books, journalists have little control over their headlines. So let me address this to Publishers Weekly and whatever boneheaded editor made that decision:

“Promiscuous?” REALLY? That’s the best you could do after four very intelligent and digitally savvy women take time to discuss ebooks with your equally intelligent and savvy reporter? REALLY? I’m ashamed of you. Honestly. You had ample opportunity and acres of clever options, and confronted with women working within the digital romance industry, you went with “promiscuous?” Deplorable.

Anyway, on with the article, which ROCKS. Fox touches on digital adoption, devices, and DRM:

Capitalizing on this trend, Harlequin recently announced the summer 2010 launch of the digital-only imprint Carina Press, which will focus on romance and erotic romance. “The voracious reading appetite of romance readers has allowed a number of digital-first companies to start and grow and become solvent,” says digital publishing consultant Angela James, who will be the executive editor at Carina. “Many readers came to digital reading because it offered erotic romance, which wasn’t something they could get from traditional venues. Now traditional publishers are looking at digital-first lines.”

Romance readers and publishers remain sharply divided on the question of encryption and digital rights management (DRM), however, and many consumers continue to hold out for a low-priced e-reader and a single standardized format. “Sadly, the reader is often the missing element in the development of books and devices,” says Sarah Wendell, a romance blogger at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. “Whether it’s DRM security on the books themselves, or devices that have some but not all of the features we prefer, time and again manufacturers and publishers are standing between the reader and her book.”

Carina will be offering DRM-free e-books, delighting readers who want content to be immediately and perpetually available and easily shared. Other publishers are concerned that infinitely replicable books will destroy their bottom line. “Kensington will only deal with retailers that use DRM,” says Steve Zacharius, president and CEO of Kensington Publishing. “The authors have dedicated their lives to writing a book and deserve to earn a royalty from every copy that is downloaded. The slight inconvenience that might exist to the reader in having to put up with DRM is worth the effort to make sure that the e-publishing business is a viable model.” Wendell says that inconvenience not only discourages readers but reduces valuable word-of-mouth promotion: “We can’t say to a friend, ‘Oh, my gosh, you have to read this—here, borrow my copy.’ [Readers and bloggers] are the newest marketing and promotional team for an author, but our ability to share the very thing we love most is hobbled because we are seen as potential thieves and pirates.”

“Slight inconvenience?” I see your slight and raise you a promiscuous. DRM is often much more than a slight inconvenience, unless you use the same terminology to describe a case of leprosy.

Ms. Fox was a fun interview, and I’m so pleased to have met her. I wish her article had received a headline worthy of the content, though, as it’s one that looks at romance, the readership, and our devotion to books with clarity.



General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Tina C. says:

    Wow, that is one good article hidden behind one very gruesome title that is apparently based upon the single throw-away line:  “They read around.”

    Still, it did a good job of presenting the various sides of the issue.

  2. 2
    caligi says:

    The downside of management not being young is that they are not tech-savvy.

    If publishers’ decision makers were under thirty, they’d know DRM does nothing to prevent piracy. Anyone who knows how to find pirated or illegally distributed ebooks knows how to strip DRM.

    I really am shocked these people think DRM stymies anyone but the people who wouldn’t have done anything wrong to begin with.

    Until we get a standard format, I’ll be stripping the DRM off, TYVM.

  3. 3
    Suze says:

    Zacharius reports that Kensington’s e-books are discounted about 20% from the cover prices: “I feel the lower cost of bringing this type of format to market should be passed along to the reader.”

    Ha!  See that?  That’s the president and CEO of Kensington Publishing saying that yes, indeedy, this format has a lower cost for the publisher.  So anyone arguing that an ebook could logically cost more to produce than a pbook will need to dig a little harder for rationalization.

    So there.

    I really can’t think of anything to say about “promiscuous”.  People should really run their ideas past a real-life vetting board, and listen when they’re told that it’s a Bad Idea.

  4. 4
    Rose Fox says:

    Thanks so much for letting me pick your brain, and for your kind words about the article!

  5. 5
    liz m says:

    Well, my library books are randomly locking up due to their DRM, to the mystification of myself and my librarian. But, you know, that’s slight – right? Because it’s happening with me and not them……

    I don’t want to share an account with six of my closest pals computers, but publishers do tempt me. Every time I read publisher quotes I want to give stuff away.

    Great article.

  6. 6
    joanneL says:

    When it comes to format, romance readers are promiscuous

    Stupid. Insulting. Offensive. Dismissive.
    Who titled that article?
    Someone who thinks romance readers can be a given a little kick once in a while because they never read Publishers Weekly—I read it every week—or someone who doesn’t understand that being discourteous to readers of a popular and profitable genre is dumb?
    (and I was in SUCH a good mood) blah.

    Great article though, thank you.

    And I have loved Harlequin in almost all of their incarnations, but not on any of my electronic devices.
    DRM = Don’t Read Me

  7. 7
    Linz Hill says:

    The title is dismissive, but at least it is eye catching. It didn’t really shock me that much – I guess I’m too much a child of the media spin age? The jaded consumer? My grade 7 teacher told us what ‘planned obsolescence’ meant and taught us how to do a double-blind scientific test of Coke and Pepsi.  I pretty much expect the packaging to misrepresent the contents if the shock value can be improved.  So, if you could re-name the article . . . what title would you give? 

    P.S. I almost spit nails when my library made the latest Suzanne Brockmann book available to me way sooner than expected (mp3, large print, Cyrillic alphabet, I just wanted it IMMEDIATELY) but some weird illegal Windows patch I was unaware of made Windows Media Player unable to upgrade and unable to deal with OverDrive software ad .odm format . . . My boyfriend made jokes about it, and I was like “I don’t want to talk about my computer! The whole thing makes me angry! ME ANGRY!” I think I also turned green at this point, and all my clothing except my pants ripped off in a very non erotic way.

    Spamword *expect45* – I expect 45 other readers got just as ticked off about the same glitch, and couldn’t decide if they wanted to rampage towards Microsoft or the publisher.

  8. 8

    Well said, Sarah! I just got contracted to write for one of the major e-rotica publishers, and now I’m suddenly having to wrap my head around DRM and all the technical hoo-ha that’s going to be snuggled in a potentially frustrating threesome between me and my future readers.

    If only we could shove all the business machinations into romance and erotic fiction’s too-inconvenient-to-mention closet, along with santorum and “I need to pee if we’re going to do it first thing in the-morning, Dearest.”

  9. 9

    “Slight inconvenience”?! I’ve stopped buying music online because of all those slight inconveniences. I’m reluctant to buy an e-book reader because of it. If their intention is to keep consumers from buying their product, it’s working.

  10. 10

    I remain cheerfully optimistic that publishers will get a piece of cluecake about DRM and pricing of ebooks one of these days.  As an ebook author I have to be optimistic.  I’m seeing sales rise, more readers come on board each month, and new ereaders being rolled out.  It’s going to happen, and I just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

  11. 11
    AmyW says:

    Clearly I’ve become immune to the wordplay used in romance novel articles—I completely skipped over “promiscuous”…

  12. 12
    terri says:

    I thought “promiscuous” was an awesome word to use.  We all know what it means and it tantalizes!  I do feel the title was chosen for shock value but true romance readers are – according to webster –
    1 : composed of all sorts of persons or things
    2 : not restricted to one class, sort, or person : indiscriminate

    3 : not restricted to one sexual partner

    I’ve been a romance reader since I found them in the early 1980’s and yet, I read all sorts of stories, I will not restrict my reading pleasure to one class (publisher).  However I am very discriminate because it has to be a good story and good writing or I’ll throw it against the wall….

    And as a romance reader (and writer) I am totally not restricted to one sexual partner.  I can fall in love with every hero I read or write. 

    The issue with DRM is that the romance industry was built by readers swapping books and tagging them for their keeper shelves.  So hopefully Carina will applaud and promote that practice.  It’s a shame that some publishers of romance novels still don’t get the magic. 

    I think it’s awesome that the leader in Romancelandia is keeping an eye on what all the “big-guns” in the publishing world think will save their bottom line.  Then Harlequin announces, good idea, we’ll do it too, without all the crap attached because we know, it’s all about the readers.

    They may be a promiscuous bunch, but they are what makes us all focus on a happily ever after.

    These are exciting times for true heroes to strut their stuff and heroines to say – Yeah, nice abs and man titty but that DRM belt buckle has got to go!

  13. 13
    Annebonnie says:

    Thanks for review of Bitten because now i will read it.  Love your website, hate the Amazon flack, I think they were trying to censor books – many of us think that but apologizing they will never do.  They are obviously “too big to fail”

  14. 14
    Maggie Marr says:

    Wouldn’t a DRM model that let you share the first chapter of a book be a good compromise?  Similar to what you do w/the Look Inside on Amazon.  That way if I have a fantastic book I want to share w/a friend I can send it to her, she can look at the first chapter and then decide if she wants to buy it for herself.  Good for word of mouth and good for royalties.  Just a thought…

  15. 15
    Mark Ewans says:

    You do have a point here. I have read a lot about this on other articles written by other people, but I must admit that you have proved your point here! Will be back to read more of your quality information!
    promotional caps

  16. 16

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