Sunday, May 04, 2008

The real ebook money is in sci fi, um, okay--veinglory

David Rothman at teleread posts a blog entry entitled: Love tech? Enjoy SF? Hate romances? Then you’re part of a pattern—and e-publishers should pay attention. "...tellingly, in our recent TeleRead blog survey, 76 percent of the participants listed “sci fi/speculative fiction” among the genres they’d browse in a bookstore if they had an hour to kill. Thirty-three percent went for “classics/public domain.” Just 11 percent mentioned romance/erotic—the very favorites of Jane’s DearAuthor audience."

I honestly am not quite sure of the point being made. Telereaders say they like sci fi and say they buy ebooks. I can only assume they are a relatively small and unrepresentative sample of the total ebook buying market. Because there are authors out there supplying sci fi to fantasy/sci fi epublishers. Despite what the readers of this survey report I am told their sales figures make the relatively modest erotic romance sales-per-title figures look positively lavish by comparison. I wonder if I should start accepting selected data on other genres as a basis for comparison?

Romance epublishers (or at least the top 20-30 of them) are doing well focusing on that genre. And the sales figures seem to encourage them to gravitate to romance, and to more erotic types of romance. These publishers, being in this business for money, have gravitated to romance and erotic romance for a reason (as witness Samhain becoming a romance press and New Concepts going from disdaining erotic romance to pushing it quite strongly). The pattern in this case is, in my opinion, in Telereads sample not the sales figures that keep most authors fed and most publishers viable. But I would be happy to take sales figures from authors with non-romance sci fi books at presses such as Double Dragon to test this proposition.

As for the real ebook money... per title it's probably in non-fiction: self-help, money management etc. But that's another story.


Jules Jones said...

I used to have access to some figures for places like Double Dragon, but alas the forum was closed down earlier this year. I can try digging through tomorrow, but the numbers I saw being reported were not that exciting. (Mine were generally better than the straight sf books.)

Big name authors from big name sf presses do well at Fictionwise, but for a like-with-like comparison you'd need to compare their numbers with eHarlequin.

veinglory said...

That was about what I was thinking was the case. Mind you I personally reads more spec fic ech year than romance. But the power of the romance-genre market is what it is. I am by no means whatsoever convinced that there are $7 for sci fi for every $1 from romance, or even 1:1. Ergo I think the survey is off target, not the epublishers.

Zot said...

If the polls are skewed towards science fiction for ebooks, I'd suspect there's a combination of sample bias and wishful thinking going on. There are a few things that argue for romance and against most mainstream genres as good e-book candidates.

Firstly, most e-books cost a lot more per word than print books. I can walk into a bookstore, drop $6 plus tax, and walk out with a book big enough to mug someone with. I'll probably get half to two-thirds as much book, on average, from one of the ebook publishers. I can get sci fi in both paper and electron, so why should I buy an e-book when paper gets me more of a win? On the other hand, I can't walk into a bookstore and pick up a good gay romance, or at least very few of them, and most of 'em are paper versions of e-books and priced two or three times what the e-book's priced. Big win for the romance e-book.

Second, even if I could pick up a gay romance novel in the bookstore, odds are I wouldn't. Call me a coward, but to walk to the checkout and hand the clerk a book filled with two guys fucking? Don't think so. (And I generally buy books in Manhattan. I can't imagine someone doing that in, say, Des Moines, or Dallas) I expect it's the same with the straight, menage, and furry romance novels too.

So for sf and most mainstream genres you have a net loss buying e-books, and for romance ('specially the racier bits) you've got both a net win and a market that's basically completely un-served by other outlets. Not a strong argument for buying science fiction as e-books.

Well, not unless sf about boinking robots. But I think I'd rather not go there...

veinglory said...

I have certainly gotten some odd looks buying print MM. But I think the weirdest reactions have been when I was buying African American romance. Like if you are the wrong color you're not actually allowed to buy it. : /

Anonymous said...

Hi, Emily. Just saw your post via our incoming linkings list. Thanks for the mention.

Actually our readers ARE special--we're hardly the total e-book market. Techies and eggheads are far more common. So in saying we're not representative, you're right! We didn't do the poll to measure the entire market. I don't doubt that Harlequin and Ellora's Cave are wildly outselling Baen.

David Rothman for

Athena Grayson said...

There may be some skewing going on thanks to's promotion to buff up their email opt-in lists - one freebie ebook from their back catalog per week. I've gotten some good ones--many are likely unavailable in print anymore, but still classic SF I expect from Tor.

It's one of the few opt-in/ad gimmicks that has me amazed at the effectivity, at least on me. I get a steady supply of backlist titles, some classic cover art as wallpapers if I want it, and I'm not annoyed by the weekly emails to the point that I'm actually becoming more curious about what the promo is leading up to.

Of course, I don't have my own mile-long ebook backlist to put out there in anticipation of a new release, but if I did...I think I'd do something like this.