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.
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?