Genre as Indicator

Michael Stackpole recently posted this great blog post titled Price Isn’t The Point — an argument that pricing isn’t the most important variable for book sales.

Hidden in that post, however, is an idea that I think is worth examining:

Another monster variable is genre. Romance outsells mystery/thrillers, and mystery/thrillers outsell SF and Fantasy—with huge gaps between them. I know of no pricing experiment that has tried to control for this variable. Heck, if you look at print books, Romance readers are willing to pay full price for a 50,000 novel; whereas an SF/Fantasy reader would get 2-4 times that much wordage for the same price.

Let’s tie that in with this Washington Post article — about romance authors, ebooks, and the same, valuable observation:

E-readers have been around in early formats for nearly two decades, but they have been drastically dropping in price and improving in quality during the past 36 months.

One of the first groups to embrace them were readers of romance fiction. These books were part of larger genre-based markets, such as thrillers and horror, that were populated by avid readers who chain-read books. They were avid fans, communicating with one another in any number of ways, including blogs and book clubs. Romance was tailor-made for the webs of social media.

“Romance novels are leading the way in e-publishing because romance readers are incredibly prolific,” says Malle Vallik, Harlequin’s director of digital publishing. “They understood [e-readers] immediately: ‘Oh, my God, in my purse, I can have 50 books.’ You like one writer, you can get their complete backlist immediately.” [Emphasis mine]

New marketing patterns of lower online prices and impulse buying created a perfect dynamic for authors like Belleville: Genre authors who were prolific but who had not been too successful. This peculiar level of accomplishment meant they had written books for print publishers, seen sales vanish and had the rights revert back to them, and even had completed manuscripts that publishers had rejected.

This left with the writers with just the right recipe: a small but devout core audience; a readily available backlist for new readers to discover; a knack for writing fast; and an inherent appeal to a fan base that read voraciously. [Emphasis mine]

What this means is that genre determines the median (and I suppose the upper-bound) of sales that any one writer might have. This does not mean that you have to switch genres; I wouldn’t be so silly as to propose that. What it does mean, however, is that when you next look at the sales figures of a hotshot indie writer, you should pause to take note of what genre he or she’s writing in.

Amanda Hocking sells thousands of ebooks every month. She also happens to be writing romance.

J.A. Konrath sells a little less. He writes thrillers.

The two demographics are rather different. They exist at different parts of the early-adopter spectrum — and ironically enough, romance readers are ahead.

But there’s another way of looking at this: if you’re in the publishing startup space, like I am, this bit of information implies that it would do to have some part of your service focussed on romance. I’m not exactly sure how I would do it, or how any digital publishing house would do it (have a romance-only spinoff, perhaps?) But it does make sense: romance readers are ahead of the curve with regard to ebooks. They were early-adopters, a result of the embarrassing semi-naked-man-on-book-cover problem, plus their buying habits — buying an entire backlog with one click — are factors worth thinking about.

Sidenote: I realized I haven’t been blogging here for the past 3 months. I’ve been spending that time working on Pandamian. We’ve got free ebook conversions up and running, along with a whole bunch of other features, and I’m eager to talk about them once the new redesign is up. Till then, consider this post an apology, and a signal that I’m back. Sorry about the break, folks. More publishing-related news in a bit.

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Category: Making Money
  • http://amharte.com a.m.harte

    True, true. Romance books sell like hot cakes.

    I find it easy to read romance ebooks, and have ended up reviewing quite a few on my book blog. For me, romance and thrillers are “lighter” reading which I can skim through rather rapidly, as opposed to fantasy/scifi which for me mostly involves a more concentrated effort (focusing on world building et al). I wonder whether others read in a similar fashion, thereby finding romance books more accessible as ebooks compared to a scifi ebook?

  • http://elijames.org Eli James

    You’re right you know, I realize that chic lit is essentially like television: you can just go along for the ride and not think.