There is a kickass article in this month’s issue of Fast Company on Harlequin eBook impresario Angela James. There are two things in this article that are awesome (apart from the fact that eBook romance is awesome anyway). The first was the quote from Harlequin’s Executive Vice-President for digital books Brent Lewis.
It’s not surprising that Harlequin would get there first. After all, the company pioneered mail-order as well as drugstore and supermarket book distribution. “Wherever women are, however women want to read,” is how Brent Lewis, executive vice president for digital, puts it. Online and direct-to-consumer sales (to readers on Harlequin’s website) weren’t major jumps.
Emphasis mine. This motto broadly applied to all readers is something that Libraries are just finally starting to understand. With the Contra-Costa County Library and their book vending machines, libraries putting QR codes in the wild on city buses, and just generally making eBook downloads available via mobile apps and eReaders with Wi-Fi or 3-4G connections is just starting to get there. This also speaks to the value of embedded librarians out in the world outside of the reference desk environment, connecting with users via social media and active chat clients and, being able to provide library service however it is our public needs it.
The second critical point here is regarding the sale of eBooks with DRM and without.
Carina’s biggest departure from other major publishers — including its owner — is that its books are sold without digital rights management, the technology embedded in many electronic media to thwart pirates. Spooked by what happened to the music industry, most book publishers have embraced this set of access controls, but readers chafe at it. On AllRomance.com, DRM titles comprise half of inventory but only 4% of sales in 2010, says chief operating officer Lori James. (All books purchased on the Nook have DRM, no matter the publisher’s policy.)
“Our theory is that it doesn’t prevent piracy because any pirate can strip DRM in about 30 seconds,” says James. “DRM instead inhibits casual sharing, an important part of the reading process — and the purchasing process.”
Look at that. Sales are showing, hands down that people are choosing non-DRM protected titles the vast majority of the time. 96% of sales. How can you argue with numbers like that? Seriously. They also clearly understand how women read and share romance novels. I can tell you from the days when I watched my mother, aunts and friends in their romance novel reading heydays, that they would get grocery bag loads full of books, swap them back and forth among each other and tell each other which ones were good and which ones were bad, which had steamy scenes and which were sweet. It is a vigorously social reader behavior that DRM restricted eBooks would change, for the worse. Also, these women who read Romance novels read them in volume, and the price point and publishing rate needs to support that. And this woman is making it happen. Kudos to you Angela James for understanding how romance novel readers read and share, and pushing a business model that supports that rather than hinders it. Awesome.