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What traditional publishers are doing with digital first for readers


When I was looking up deals last weekend, I saw Jessica Clare’s “Stranded with the Billionaire” (review here by The Bookpushers) priced at $2.99. It had the same cover treatment as Beth Kery’s serial from last year but SWtB is a full length novel. And it wasn’t a discounted price either. $2.99 is the listed retail price by Intermix, the digital first arm of the mass market division of Penguin. Clare (aka Jill Myles) has two other Billionaire books coming out in quick succession this year “Beauty and the Billionaire” and “The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed”, also full length and also priced at $2.99.

The May book club pick for Dear Author “True” by Erin McCarthy is priced at $3.99, and was actually a free PDF download for about two days over at Goodreads. But price isn’t the only thing Intermix is experimenting with. After the success of a few self published serials last year (i.e., Sarah Fawkes’ “Anything He Wants”), Intermix put out Beth Kery’s “Because You Are Mine” in serial format and the response was very strong. Because You Are Mine, Part 1, sold 91,310 copies.

Not all serials have done well. NAL published Lauren Jameson’s “Tempted to Submit” which did not seem to catch on with readers. Kyra Davis’ “Just One Night” 3 part serial published by Simon & Schuster is selling quite well with parts 1 and 2 placing high on the bestseller lists. In contrast, Nicole Camden’s three part series “The Fetish Box” published by the same house has done poorly. Serialization isn’t done for the price or convenience of readers, however, but rather to increase or capture readership for a new author or an author with a smaller audience. Or to meet reader demand.

Forever, a division of Grand Central Publishing, is putting out a British author’s serial work, Marina Anderson,  with two entries each month, next spring.

Carina Press was the pioneer as the digital first publishing arm of a traditional publisher. It publishes stories in varying lengths, from short stories to more epic ones exceeding hundred thousand words. The pricing for those stories have always been aggressive.

I recall hearing Angela James speak at a conference once in which she explained that they watched how readers responded to prices. Initially the high-end or ceiling for pricing was $6.99. But few individuals were buying at that higher price. Carina Press then changed the high-end or ceiling of its pricing to $5.99. Currently Carina Press is experimenting with lowered pre-order and first week sales pricing. All of its new titles are being offered for $2.99.


digital and print

Jennifer Haymore, a Forever author, will be publishing journal entries from Lady Esme. Lady Esme is a recurrent character who is always scribbling but what she is really doing is writing erotic stories. Haymore’s The Devil’s Pearl, a House of Trent novella (featuring the erotic writings of Lady Esme) goes on sale in May, one month before the House of Trent p/e novel, The Duchess Hunt, goes on sale. The second Lady Esme erotic novella, His for Christmas, goes on sale in October, a month before the next House of Trent novel, THE ROGUE’S PROPOSAL. A third novella will follow in Spring 2014, again tied to p/e novel in Spring 2014. These erotic stories will be digitally published prior to the print publication of the full length stories.

One editor explained that with digital publishing, the pricing could be changed from week to week in response to reader demand. Avon and HarperCollins has done extensive price experimentation for the last year or two. In order to promote front list sales, Avon has been greatly reducing the back list prices. For instance, Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove book number four, “Any Duchess Will Do” releases in just a couple weeks. To entice readers, the entire Spindle Cove series has been reduced to $.99 each. (For the record, I highly recommend buying the books at $.99 and highly recommend saving your pennies for “Any Duchess Will Do” which I thought was utterly charming).

Publishers have also learned that discount pricing can lead to an increase in sales across the board for one author but also it can push an author onto the bestseller list. Suzanne Kearsley books have been reduced by Sourcebooks, often for only a day, leading to placement on the New York Times and USA Today lists.

A nontraditional publisher, Samhain, has used the free technique to increase readership for its authors, push an author onto a list, and promote sales of backlist titles.

One editor that I spoke with said that digital publishing allows traditional publishers to experiment by publishing stories that are unconventional, have a more niche audience, or hard to categorize. Digital publishing is also allowing publishers to quickly capitalize on current trends.

Retail accounts such as Barnes & Noble, Target, Wal-mart, and the like have a 4 to 6 month advance buy in. Therefore it’s much harder to move quickly to provide the content readers are clamoring for in a print only publishing market.

It is also apparent that publishers are paying very close attention to what readers are looking for and asking about on blogs, good reads, twitter, and Facebook. If there is a growing demand for particular trope, author, or setting, they are working hard to either acquire the titles to meet that demand from the self-publishing market or fostering existing writers in producing the new content.

There is a large and new market of readers, different from the established romance reader community, that is a driving force in today’s publishing market. The challenge is to introduce that new reader to the host of well-written books that have already been published or introduce new authors and tropes to that market. Historicals, for instance, don’t seem high on the radar of the New Adult readership.

In looking around and speaking with some editors, it is clear the publishers are paying attention and want to not only capitalize on current trends, but push their own stories in a way that they hope others will respond.

It occurred to me that traditional publishers were engaging real experimentation, more so than I have given them credit for. While we tend to criticize publishers for being slow moving and behind-the-times, it made sense to recognize them for making the effort to meet the readers’ demands. It also tells me that if a group of readers foment loud enough for a particular reading interest, someone will push to deliver product to them.

Have you noticed any publishing innovations either in type, format, price, or anything else? Is there anything you would like to see? Is there anything you wish would change?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Bronwen Evans
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 04:18:37

    Hi Jane
    Interesting post. With my writers hat on I’d have to say Traditional Publishers are having to experiment with price because the price of books is dropping due to self-publishing. I’ve never seen so many TP putting books on sale. A Stephanie Lauren’s novel released on 31 Jan 2013 at $7.99 was on special within six weeks to $1.99. SourceBooks regularly have a group of books at $1.99. It hooks readers and introduces an author’s work. I’ve never seen that before. I think it’s because authors can self publish a book at $2.99 and make a 70% margin. You do the maths. Mid list authors like me are making far more money self-publishing. The growth and professionalism of Self-publishing has, I think, lowered the over all market price of books.

  2. DS
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 07:14:27

    I would be very happy if Suzanne Kearsley’s backlist was made available for Kindle. But I’m not buying at $8+ for an ebook. I’ve managed to snag a number of her books over the years in print so an ebook would just be a nice addition to my digital keeper shelf for a reread.

  3. LJD
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 08:58:54

    I wish when trade publishers offered deals they were actually available outside the US. I don’t even know why I bother looking at deals lists since usually only 1/3 of them (just guessing on the figure here) apply in Canada. If the price is low to start with, then I see the benefit on my end. But for sales? Often not. Wanted to buy the last Spindle Cove novel that I don’t own (I borrowed it from the library), but no 99c deal here. Would have also bought a few other books on sale this week, if the sale had actually existed here.

  4. Zara Keane
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 09:17:29

    What LJD said. Traditional publishers rarely let me buy their books for the prices you’re quoting. When someone tweets about a series being on sale for, say, $0.99, I often click through only to find I’m expected to pay $7 or $8. This makes no sense as most of the books in question aren’t geo restricted. If a self-published author reduces the price of their books, I can usually buy them for the price quoted, plus the international surcharge.

  5. Jane
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 09:19:40

    @LJD: I wonder if it is because of exchange rate issues? Not sure. In some cases of international books, there are different publishers. I.e., Penguin might publish it here in the US and control US publishing, but some other arm or publishing entity controls the prices internationally.

  6. Darlynne
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 09:41:49

    Not a publisher, but B&N has started discounting digital books within the last few weeks, titles not usually seen with reduced pricing. They wouldn’t/couldn’t act without the publisher’s consent, AFAIK, so it’s been interesting to see what is available.

    Publishers may be dipping their toes in the water, but none of us has seen any further movement in the settlement refunds for which we dutifully filled out paperwork. The road is still a long and uncertain one.

  7. LJD
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 10:20:21


    I wish I knew why this happens. The case of Canada is a little different from other countries as we don’t typically get foreign editions, but the same one as in the US. And if “North American rights” were sold, that would include Canada. I’d be happy if they just adjusted the price based on the exchange rate since our dollar has been pretty much at parity with the USD for quite a while now. But even outside of deals, prices tend to be a little higher. (Not just the case in publishing–this is a regular complaint here.) It just seems like they forget that the world outside the US exists, and it is very aggravating. It’s not like I’ve heard of Canada-specific deals on ebooks, either. If they exist, I have no idea how to find them.

  8. Estara Swanberg
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 12:09:22

    @LJD: The only thing in that direction I’ve heard of so far was when Kobo had a coupon code for Canada Day that only worked for Canadians ^^. This site sometimes is useful even for non-Canadians.
    Now that BooksonBoard has stopped selling I won’t be able to buy a few of my favourite authors in ebook, I believe, because that was the one site where I could always swindle my way around geo restrictions.
    I’m not going back to buying in paper, except for autobuy authors. Everybody else that sounds interesting and isn’t available to me in ebook won’t get bought.

  9. Wahoo Suze
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 13:20:11

    Yeah, Kobo seems to be the ONLY place I can buy mainstream published e-books (my other e-vendors give me an error message saying they’re not allowed to sell it to me), but it’s always at a higher price than elsewhere. And I really hate shopping at Kobo, for a variety of reasons.

    I saw a news report a few years ago (when the dollar reached parity with US) that concluded that Canadians pay at least 10% more for vehicles than USians, even for vehicles that are made in Canada. That was after taking the exchange rate into account and compensating for taxes and stuff, too.

  10. Cindy
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 17:51:07

    I’m in the US and I never get the deals from Kobo either unless I have a coupon. And I still can’t use their coupons on all titles (I’m looking at you Berkley Prime Crime). So if I really want the deal that’s posted, I end up buying on Kindle and having to convert through Calibre so I can read what I bought.
    Oh. And if any publishers are reading this, aside from historicals where the younger hero and heroine are usually more mature than those of today, I have 0 interest in New Adult. I want characters I can identify with and I certainly don’t want to read about college parties.

  11. Jolie Jacq
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 18:55:15

    I’m in Australia and often the deals aren’t available to us from any of the linked retailers. A book I was interested in went on sale last month and, as expected, no discount showed at Amazon but when I checked ARe, there it was for the sale price. Since then I’ve been able to access two other deals at ARe that weren’t showing up for me at Amazon.

  12. Susan
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 02:12:06

    I’ve actually noticed an increase in the number of newly-published books where the ebook is priced more than the pbook. The pbooks are $7.19, but the ebooks are $7.99. WTF?!? Penguin (shock) seems to be the primary culprit, but there are others as well. I just put those books on my wish list, waiting for the day these pubs quit being such asses.

    I do like the sales/specials, but have to admit it sometimes irks me when I’ve paid full price and, before I’ve even had a chance to read the book, it’s discounted. I guess it’s starting to teach me patience, to not automatically hit the buy button as soon as I see something I want.

  13. persnickety
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 03:09:21

    I am glad to see that publishers are starting to recognise the power of lower pricing to drive new readers. It is still frustrating that in Australia we often don’t benefit, but my husband and I have a few ways around that.

    I will say though, an author/publisher who fails to manage the ebook process at this point in time, is as far as I am concerned, an author/publisher who doesn’t want my money.

    I recognise that contracts were signed years ago, but as new authors get signed, and fail to manage their rest of world/international/ebook rights well, well they aren’t going to be discovered by me. The publisher side of things- Mary Stewart’s 50s and 60s mystery romances are comfort reads for me. Hachette has them priced at $12.99. Consequently I no longer buy Hachette in any shape or form. There are the odd books that slip through by accident, but I was so angry when I found that price that I went and tracked down all of their imprints so I could avoid them. Yes, it seems a tad excessive, but that pricing is beyond ridiculous (incidentally they do the same for Dorothy Sayer). While I may miss particular authors, not enough to cough up that much money for a book I can buy for a $1 at the used book store.
    So happy to see publishers have acknowledged that pricing thresholds are different for ebooks, but remain skeptical that some of the big ones have worked it out

  14. KarenW
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 09:13:14

    I’m glad to see traditional publishers at least starting to think about ebook readers and pricing. It seems like may of the traditional publishers still have their heads in the sand. I buy all my books in ebook format now, but I still have fairly traditional tastes – I buy some self published and small press books, but most of the books that appeal to me are published by the major publishers. I guess I just have old fashioned tastes. But when I see the prices, I feel like a chump for paying $6.99 or $7.99 or more. Right now, I’m just being pickier about what I buy, but I suspect the publishers’ inflexibility on pricing is pushing younger readers away. It’s just nonsensical to punish readers who are buying new books by setting prices at these levels.

  15. carmen webster buxton
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 13:30:21

    I actually gave away my collection of paperback Georgette Heyers, after Sourcebooks had their second $1.99 sale on her birthday. I vote for publishers putting an author’s backlist on deep discount once a year!

  16. Kaetrin
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 01:54:00

    I’m one who often misses out on the deals because of geo restrictions, so I was super pleased that the Jessica Clare book was $2.99 everywhere. I bought it immediately.

  17. Margaret Tanner
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 00:37:11

    Hi everyone, hope you are all well.

    I have enjoyed reading the article and your comments, about e-books from the large publishers and also those that are self published. What about the small small indie publishers who started the e-book phenomenon? Are they now to be ignored because after years of scorn and ridicule, the “big boys” realize there is money to be made out of e-pubs and have jumped on the bandwagon?
    Will they do as they did with the small print book publishers a few years ago, buy these small indie publishers out, or drive them out of business, so they can have the e-book market all to themselves?
    Who then will give new authors the chance of publication or the readers a chance to buy their books at a reasonable price?
    As for innovation on genres etc. It was the indie publishers who started this too. i.e. Ellora’s Cave with Erotic Romance and Erotica.



  18. Traditional publishers are fiddling with digital first • Liquid State
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 07:27:13

    […] This blog post on the Dear Author website documents many of the new business models and tactics being attempted, and I have to say – most of them are quite clever. Romance novels are not exactly expensive to begin with (many of the titles mentioned in the post don’t exceed more than five American dollars in price), but as an example, the publisher Avon has been branching out into price experimentation. Alongside HarperCollins, they have been greatly reducing the price of backlist titles in order to entice in new readers. In the last two years, some titles have been sold for as little as 99 cents. Because the books are digital first, publishers have the freedom to change the pricing to meet demands every week, if they see fit. Some ebooks are even offered as free downloads on Goodreads for a limited time. […]

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