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Friday Midday Links: Borders Q3 Profits Dismal

Author emotions may be at an all time high with the release of 4 weeks of limited Bookscan data from Amazon. Yesterday, Amazon rolled out a feature that gives authors who have an account at Amazon the ability to look at 4 weeks of sales data from Bookscan. No Amazon Kindle data, no Amazon direct sales data. The data picture gives about 75% of total Bookscan sales numbers for four weeks. Bookscan is pretty useful for trade paperbacks and mass market romances with limited distribution. But if the author’s books are sold in Wal-mart or drugstores and the like, those sales don’t show up. But the numbers, graphs, geographical data, is a seductive drug for authors who usually get no data, let alone four weeks. A couple of links of interest: BNET and LA Times Blog and Sarah Weinman.

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Sarah Weinman writes for Daily Finance and has the latest analysis of the incredibly dismal Borders’ news. Borders Q3 financial news was that it suffered a $74.4 Million loss and a 17.6% sales decrease.

The primary culprit was the gross margin from the stores that remained open: It plunged from 18.5% to 15.4%. Borders blamed “the de-leveraging of fixed occupancy costs caused by negative comparable store sales.” In other words, stores’ sales shrunk, while their fixed costs — things like rent, insurance and electricity — remained the same.

See full article from DailyFinance: http://srph.it/fYboBQ

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Not every social media platform launched by publishers is going to work. HarperCollins is closing BookArmy which was a site designed to engage readers in the UK. The site was launched in 2008 and was to compete with Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari.

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Speaking of social media sites for readers, Goodreads has its 2010 reader poll out. For romances, there are some interesting choices including a m/m title: Promises by Marie Sexton. Strawberries for Dessert by Sexton was reviewed during the Gay Writes week here at Dear Author and was one of Sarah F’s books of 2010. I voted for Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke but I loved seeing the broad range of choices including another small press book from author Lorelei James.

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An interesting data point from Goodreads was shared a couple of days ago. Apparently goodread users read more books published in 2009 than 2010 during the year 2010. This could be that more readers are signing on to Goodreads and adding books to their libraries that they read in the past and just haven’t correctly categorized those books (guilty) but I read a lot of backlist titles and with publishers and authors digitizing their backlists, these titles are a lot more accessible.

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I loved this blog post by author Michelle Styles about markets outside the US.   While the US remains the largest market for romance authors, according to Styles, there are other growing markets out there and they have different tastes:

As an overseas editor explained to me several years ago, they find the books through Harlequin's internal database as well as publications like the RT Book Reviews but always it is based what their specialised knowledge of what their readership wants. And the readership desires do differ. For example, Germany has never been a Regency driven historical market.

Harlequin’s push internationally is something to watch.   According to this blog post at iLook China, “Harlequin received official, red star-stamped permission to place half a million copies of twenty titles in Mandarin and a quarter-million copies of ten English versions on the shelves of Xinhua.”   The blog post linked to another article published in 2007 about the increasing demand of romance books and the corresponding worry about the message of these books.

Some Chinese experts are worried about the new reading trend. They feel anxious due to the submissive psychology in these romances and they wonder how such plots will affect young girls with no exposure to any feminist principals. These experts feel that the stories might addict readers to scenarios urging them to act obsequiously, thus mirroring the yielding concubine heroine who eagerly seeks the protection and favor of a powerful man. Psychologists wonder if reading these books could create dependent personalities and negatively impact on contemporary Chinese female characters.

The entire article is worth a read.   The societal culture in China is much different than in the US and it is more patriarchal.   Good thing that Jeannie Lin’s book is about a warrior princess!

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David Pogue at the NYTimes reviews the color Nook. (sign in required) Pogue likes the bright and beautiful LCD screen, the touch screen interface, and quickness of the device. He thinks, however, the interface is too confusing:

The price you pay is complexity. The Color Nook offers far too many pop-up control racks. There's the Quick Nav bar, the Status Bar, the Media Bar, the Library, the Daily Shelf and the Recent Items menu. It will take you quite awhile to master what's where.

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Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books was featured in the New York Times yesterday in an article about romance readers and ebooks.

Romance readers tend to be women ages 31 to 49 who are -’ contrary to the popular image of Miss Lonelyhearts living vicariously through fictional tales of seduction -’ in a romantic relationship, according to the writers group. They frequently fly through a book or more a week, and from the beginning they have jumped at the chance to store hundreds of titles on a single device -’ where the next happy ending is a download away.

Romance ebooks is the fastest growing segment of sales for digital books.   This makes sense as romance readers are voracious, buying on average three books a month according to BN chief William Lynch.   One of the benefits to reading digitally is that romance readers don’t have to face the scorn and disdain from others like clerks or fellow subway passengers.   That benefit was made all the more obvious by the commenters who wasted little time in trashing romance readers as well as the books in the genre.   Apparently there was some disdain for the article by romance readers on twitter and other places, but I was happy with the article and thought it portrayed romance readers as dedicated readers who are just as ready and willing to spend their disposable income on a tech gadget and books as the boys are which is also contrary to the popular image of Miss Lonelyhearts.   The truth is that most of the covers are embarrassing.   We aren’t embarrassed of reading romances- the content-but the covers are mockable and who can blame people for associating romance readers with the covers.

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Aldiko, one of the more popular Android reading apps, will be adding ePub DRM support in its next upgrade.   I’ve recruited commenter Brian to write up an Android eBook Reading 101 Guide.   Thanks Brian!

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. Bev
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:11:30

    I have to agree with you regarding the NYT article. I saw the tweet condemning it on Twitter so I took a look myself and didn’t find anything in it offensive. I wondered what those twitters had taken exception to…

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  2. Tweets that mention Friday Midday Links: Borders Q3 Profits Dismal | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:29:35

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Cane and The Season, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: Friday Midday Links: Borders Q3 Profits Dismal http://bit.ly/dVdq3S [...]

  3. Janine
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:37:10

    @Bev: I think you have to read with a fine tooth comb to take exception.

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  4. Lisa J
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:44:23

    My budget wishes I was only buying 3 books a month. My buying habit is more like 3 a week.

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  5. Sunita
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:46:24

    I think that for those of us who have been reading condescending drive-by stories about romance readers for a couple of decades, this one was pretty complimentary. I loved the picture of SB Sarah and the bookend quotations of Sarah and Jane. I also appreciated that the article quoted ebook sites like All Romance. It reminds people that this is both a community and a lucrative business.

    I know people were (understandably) annoyed by the carp analogy, but it went right past me in terms of offensiveness because it was such a bad choice. Carp clear out other fish and destroy the ecosystems they invade. Romance readers, on the other hand, provide the financial underpinning for other genres to get published in greater numbers.

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  6. Jane
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:51:20

    @Sunita

    Romance readers, on the other hand, provide the financial underpinning for other genres to get published in greater numbers.

    While I don’t think we are carp, I don’t know I believe this anymore. I used to but ever since I found out that Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steele, Emily Giffen, and Kate Jacobs, to name a few, are considered romance, I think that the romance figures are highly inflated. Further, most of the publishing houses probably only break even on the biggest names like Sparks and Roberts. What I’ve determined makes money for publishers is books bought cheap that end up doing very well. Like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep sold for 40K in an advance and ended up selling hundreds of thousands of copies.

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  7. Sunita
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 12:55:07

    @Jane: Interesting, Jane. I would love to know what NY houses consider a profitable book in romance, and also if romance advances are similar to or lower than other genres.

    It seems that lit fic must be the most expensive for publishing houses, since the advances can be quite large but the market for them is not as big as the critical publicity they get is. If that makes sense.

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  8. Jane
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 13:03:47

    @Sunita I think a profitable book is any book that makes money but I don’t know that romance sustains the house. My understanding is that hardcovers sustain a publishing house because there is a larger profit margin in hardcovers. There is a much lower profit margin in mass markets because of the price to cost ratio. It’s not that mass market doesn’t make money but it just doesn’t make as much as a hardcover sale (which is why the 9.99 price point was so crushing for publishers).

    I know that in the past that romance had much higher advances than science fiction/fantasy debut authors. Not sure about mystery because those are primarily hardcovers.

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  9. Jennifer Estep
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 13:07:00

    Oh, that new Amazon feature is a seductive drug indeed! I looked at it this morning and thought it was pretty cool. I also thought the geographic breakdown was really interesting.

    Although it doesn’t list sales of Kindle or other e-books, which I find a little strange. I didn’t see a number for books sold through Amazon either — just the rankings. You’d think Amazon would put the Kindle numbers on there if only to encourage authors to self-pub with them — like a look here, here’s how many books you’ve sold with us kind of thing.

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  10. Gwen Hayes
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 15:21:42

    Can’t wait for the Android Reading Guide.

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  11. Kerry Allen
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 15:59:55

    @Jennifer Estep: If you self-pub with Amazon, you get your sales report in real time through an interface other than Author Central.

    Giving a breakdown of books and ebooks sold otherwise, though, is probably something they’d treat as a trade secret, like the number of Kindles sold.

    ReplyReply

  12. Carin
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 16:04:41

    I’m excited about Aldiko reading DRM! I think it’s a good reader.

    ReplyReply

  13. Jessica
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 17:16:44

    I though the carp analogy was hilarious, but then I really liked the whole article. I liked the light but not condescending tone and plan to share this with other librarians.

    ReplyReply

  14. Brian
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 22:53:19

    Can't wait for the Android Reading Guide.

    Right now it’s mainly about the different reading apps out there. If there is something specific you want to learn from it post it here and I’ll try to get it included.

    ReplyReply

  15. MaryK
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 01:22:37

    I thought the carp thing was just a poor simile. The author picked the first “insatiable and unstoppable” thing that came to mind and didn’t think through to “destructive pest.” If it had been meant as an insult, the rest of the article would’ve had an insulting tone, IMO. I didn’t feel insulted; I liked it. I read a few of the comments and decided I didn’t need the aggravation.

    Did you see that Notion Ink’s Adam tablet has sold out of the Pixel Qi versions? I’d forgotten it was supposed to have that screen. Oh well, they were out of my price range anyway.

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  16. Jennifer Estep
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 07:32:53

    @Kerry Allen: Ah, I see. Thanks for the info. Although you’d think they’d release the Kindle numbers just to talk about how many people are reading/buying those — like 1 million Kindles sold or something like that.

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  17. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:23:08

    What I disliked about the NYT article was that so much emphasis was placed on the “embarrassment” factor as an explanation for the rise in romance e-book. Although I’d wager that is an additional incentive for going digital, I was irritated by the implication that it was the primary factor. The reality is that romance readers have always bought more books per month/year than readers of other genres, and that was true even before there were ereaders that could “hide” the embarrassing covers. If the article had linked the rise is digital romance book sales more strongly to the fact that romance readers are the ones most likely to have groaning bookshelves and toppling TBR piles and therefore benefit most from the convenience and portability of a digital library, I would have found it considerably more positive.

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  18. Dana S
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 18:24:41

    @Jackie Barbosa: I so agree with you. There are a great many reasons why I started ereading, and shame was never one of them. It is nice to be able to read the more erotic titles in public without having to display the covers, but I’m not exactly ashamed of my reading habits.

    In fact, I’ve converted several romance covers/stepbacks into black and white screen savers for my Kindle. Meljean Brook’s the Iron Duke converted particularly well, and I can display my steampunk Mantitty on my Kindle when I’m not using it.

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  19. katieM
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 08:22:37

    Borders closed the one store within 10 miles of my home. It was a very successful store. No matter when you went in, the store was full and people were buying 4 or 5 books at a time. The line to purchase books always had several people waiting even with all the registers open. Borders closed that store to open one next to a high end shopping mall in another part of the city. There were already established bookstores in the area and the property that Borders wanted was never developed due to mismanagement. The new store would never have been successful in that area. Now, ebooks and Amazon are my source of books. I really liked going to the bookstore, but now gas is so high I can’t run all over the city for books that I can easily order online. Borders should include bad business decisions to their reasons for the loss.

    ReplyReply

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