eBook Customers: Less Testosterone Than You Think

October 22nd, 2007 · 9 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

[BS: The BS team is taking a well-deserved rest cure, but that doesn’t stop the fun around here (nothing stops the fun around here). We asked Malle Valik of Harlequin to discuss her company’s recent decision to release their full frontlist in ebook format. More specifically, we asked her to address the question of “who buys ebooks”? Fullish disclosure here: the question arose at a recent conference where, buoyed by just a drop of wine, we argued quite forcefully with a gentleman who assured us that women — especially women who don’t reside in major coastal cities — don’t read nor buy ebooks. Naturally, this statement runs counter to everything we know about ebook customers.]

We decided to go to 100% frontlist for a couple of key reasons. First our readers are buying eBooks and have been asking for a wider selection of titles. Also, we strongly believe that digital is a growth area for all publishers and the more titles offered by all publishers the more the eBook market as a whole will grow. As a result we are releasing more than 120 title a month. 120 is our frontlist, and then we publish some exclusive products (Spice Briefs and the Harlequin Mini) and put together bundles of backlist. That frequently adds up to 140 titles a month.

Women don’t select technology because they think it is cool; they embrace technology when they understand the benefits. The Harlequin customer is a woman; the fact that we are the first publisher to offer our complete frontlist as eBooks really shows that women are keen for this format because they understand the benefits – convenience, immediacy, portability and no need for more book shelves! What if it’s 2:00 a.m. Monday morning in the middle of snow storm if you suddenly experience a reading emergency [BS: Reading emergencies happen far more often than some people realize. You want to see abject panic? Steal all books from the house just as an avid reader is nearing the conclusion of her current book. Do not try this without proper safety equipment]? For example, you have finished reading Susan Mallery’s Silhouette Desire and have nothing else to read. You recall she also has a single title out from HQN. Voila! You can buy it, download it and start reading it without having to get changed, get in your car and drive. Immediate pleasure!

eBooks are very well-suited to the needs of female readers; in fact, as we were entering this field in October 2005, the major eRetailers were encouraging us because romance was the fastest growing genre in eBooks. And the main reason for this is that romance readers are women; and the majority of these readers are avid readers. These are women who pack 10 books in a suitcase for a 4-day trip.

[BS: It helps the Harlequin is pricing their books just below the price of the print editions, plus discounts. eBook customers want pricing structures that reflect the format of what they’re purchasing; avid readers like those discussed by Malle invest serious dollars in books every month.]

We are very excited by ongoing developments in the eBook market that bring in more readers. New devices and marketing expertise are great. We are still waiting for the “tipping point” when eBooks become as universal as downloading music!

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing

9 responses so far ↓

  • Diana Hunter // Oct 22, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Your introductory comment about the “gentleman’s” remark that women don’t buy ebooks must be one of the same group that looks down their noses at the romance genre as a whole. Because while the publishers of other genre are sitting in their ivory towers sipping tea and discussing the latest “literary” offering, the rest of us are down here in the trenches, selling our books to plenty of women…and some men…some of whom reside in coastal cities and some who do not.


    Diana, author of 12 ebook offerings in the erotic romance genre, who promises to behave herself and not be on her high horse when confronted by such “gentlemen.”

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  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 22, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Diana, you’ll note that I had a small amount of wine before this discussion. I’m sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that over the course of the conversation, the husband noted that I was getting “all worked up”. I think he means I was moments away from practicing the few karate moves I’ve mastered. Yes, this man was an ivory tower elite, moreso in the sense that he doesn’t live in the real world.

    I’m really impressed with Harlequin’s aggressive move in this area. It not only reflects a commitment to online technology, but also an acknowledgment of what their customers seek now and are likely to seek in the future. It’s sort of funny to have people tell me that women (normal women — I’d say like you and me, but, well, I’m guessing you’re as normal as I am — I mean) don’t buy ebooks. It’s clear that this bias doesn’t look beyond the major labels and into the reality of what people are actually buying and reading.

  • Joe Wikert // Oct 23, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Malle, as a publisher myself I applaud your efforts on the e-content front. I’m curious to know more about how your customers are reading your e-books. Do you have any information you could share to tell us whether they’re reading them on a computer screen, cell phone or some other device? Does one platform significantly outweigh all the others?

    Also, your pricing model is limited by the fact that your print books are already so darned low priced! I visited your site and every book I looked at was less than $10. You offer customers a deal that’s slightly less than the cover price for print products and then something just slightly lower than that for the e-book. The books my group publishes are mostly in the $30-$40 range and my gut tells me customers won’t pay more than half that price for e-book versions. Have you done any research or experiments with e-book pricing that you could share?


  • Bernita // Oct 27, 2007 at 6:06 am

    ” I think he means I was moments away from practicing the few karate moves I’ve mastered…”
    ~chortle, cheers~
    Thank you.

  • Kirk Biglione // Oct 28, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    To put this into perspective, the same gentlemen also explained that “nobody listens to audiobooks”. He seemed willing to dismiss whole industries that don’t conform with his limited world view.

  • Clive Warner // Oct 29, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    “The BS team is taking a well-deserved rest cure”
    — AHa! “Rest Cure”, eh. Reminds me of getting a bit too “emotional”. So did you spot Lindsay in there? We’re all agog to know how expensive your rehab facility is!

  • Kassia Krozser // Oct 29, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    While the expenses were handled by my “people” — every blogger needs an entourage — I have been assured that the facility was the finest in the state of Hawaii. Though now I’m wondering. Seems like I was given a lot of medicine in the form of mai tais. I should ask the staff to look into the place’s accreditation.

    But as for the resting part, it worked! I am back to my normally cranky self.

  • samiam // Jun 4, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    So what is the total customer base for e-books? Everyone talks about sales numbers and the growing number of e-book titles. But how big is the customer base?