Aug 10 2008
Harlequin Digital took a number of the bloggers out to dinner at RWA with the express purpose of asking us how to make Harlequin Digital better. Is that incredible or what?
I guess a cynical way to look at it is that they are trying to curry favor with us for the price of a bottle of wine and surf and turf, but none of the Harlequin team made any noise about our past coverage of Harlequin and seemed genuinely interested in hearing both criticism and praise of the Harlequin digital offerings. Of course, I read romance where everything ends HAPPILY so my cynical meter might be skewed or so says some friends of mine.
Here’s some of what we talked about. We all believe in the downside of DRM but implementing that might be challenging (because of piracy concerns of authors as no matter how many times you tell an author that the existing DRM scheme does not prevent piracy but maybe even encourages it, DRM free books sound scary). Harlequin gave several seminars at the conference about digital promotions and apparently lots of authors have no clue as to what is going on in terms of internet promotion. That part of the discussion was kind of sad, not necessarily from a reader perspective, but from a general perspective. It also explains the poor websites or lack of websites by so many authors.
I do think that Harlequin is in a position to totally eliminate DRM if it chose to do so but it might take more convincing.
We also talked about ePub, briefly, as Mike Smith, Executive Director of IDPF, was also present. Here is a funny and embarrassing aside. As we were waiting for everyone to arrive, I open my big mouth and complain about the number of formats and how I don’t understand why everyone is so excited about ePub because it’s just a container and the DRM wrappers still exist and I go on and on about it until poor Mike interjects and says something like, “you know who I am right?” And I smile and nod and say, “Of course” but inside, I’m like “Oh shit, the appetizers aren’t here yet and I’m already full of my foot because a) I didn’t know who he was and b) because I figured it was someone who had to do with ePub.”
But Mike was super gracious and invited me to talk with him at a later date about ePub.
After I removed the foot and had a glass of wine, I asked how the original fiction shorts (or “Bites”) as Harlequin calls them have done. Apparently they have done so well that the Harlequin Historical UNDONE will debut in October (or is it November?). These will be spicy stories.
We talked about how we would like to see more of the backlist digitized. They asked for recommendations. I said Helen Brooks as she is one of my favorite Harlequin Presents authors. Yes, I have already bought and read the fifteen books that have been digitized.
We talked a little about devices. I asked whether Harlequin was interested in developing its own reader and the answer appears to be not at this time. Harlequin sees itself as a content provider. I think it was Sarah that brought up whether Harlequin could see itself providing content to iPhone readers. Harlequin is looking into it.
We also talked about how romance constitutes about 50% of the ebook purchases made right now and how this surprises etailers. We speculated that the inability of etailers to foresee the female readership is what lead to the fugly design of the Kindle. Apparently there aren’t alot of women working on the design of the Kindle.
We also talked about the limitations of the ebook reader. I shared my opinion of how it will take a generational change. Mike Smith brought up the statistic that digital textbook sales have increased 400% which represents a paradigm shift.
With that summary, I have given some thought to what I would like to see the Harlequin Digital team do for readers. I would love to hear from other readers as to how Harlequin, or any publisher, can change to make it easier, better, cheaper for readers. What authors’ backlists do you want? What future bundles? Etc.
My ideas include:
- Reduction of prices. I would like to see Harlequin sell its ebooks at 35-40% off direct from its site.
- Digital subscription. Sign up for a year long monthly delivery of a Harlequin Presents. Or allow the readers to make up their own yearly digital subscriptions, i.e., they pay an annual fee and are allowed to download 3 HPs, 2 Blazes and 2 Desires or something like that.
- iPhone content. Harlequin should partner with an iPhone ebook provider to make its ebooks available to the million or so iPhone owners out there.
- Change the bundling system. Currently when you buy a bundle (and I love the bundles), you get one big file. It would be nice to be able to buy a bundle and get individual files for each book.
- Change the Harlequin affiliate program for bloggers so it is as easy to use as Amazons.
- Implement a one click system for purchasing akin to Amazons so that it is easier to purchase ebooks.
Right now, I would love for Kristan Higgins’ Fools Rush In to be made into an ebook so I could have her entire backlist in electronic format.
So, commenters, what are your thoughts? Let me know and I’ll forward the whole thread to Harlequin. Special thanks to the Harlequin Digital Team, Malle Vallik, Jayne Hoogenberk, Jenny Bullough, Janet Finlay for the great dinner and conversation and for being so willing to really listen to what readers want.
Next week will be about the new eInk reading devices and my advice as to what to purchase. Hint: Wait until October.