Our Digital Future: An Interview with Lori James of All Romance Ebooks

February 18th, 2010 · 3 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

As a book buyer, I have a keen interest in thriving bookstores. As a book reader, I have a keen interest in independent publishing and access to my books. And while I wait for traditional independent bookstores to transition to robust physical and online presences, I have enjoyed the emergence of digital booksellers, particularly All Romance Ebooks and its sister store, OmniLit.

Traditional PDF is the gateway drug to ebooks.

All Romance Ebooks was founded in 2006 by Barb Perfetti and Lori James. The original site, All Romance, focuses on romance novels while OmniLit sells general fiction and non-fiction. Both sites focus on what makes independent bookselling so valuable (with some modern twists, as you’ll see), and Lori James graciously succumbed to a few questions from me about her company, her customers, and her digital publishing wishlist.

Q: So, first, describe it. All Romance eBooks, OmniLit. What they are, how they fit together.

AllRomance.com is our specialty store and it primarily caters to the romance and erotica markets. OmniLit.com is a full service bookstore. Readers will find all types of fiction and non-fiction there, including all of the romance and erotica that we have at All Romance. Although they are branded differently, the two sites are integrated. Customers can access their account at either site using the same login and password and they share libraries.

Q: I’ve heard people say Amazon has cornered the ebook market, but, obviously, that’s not true. You are not only competing, but growing. Without revealing the secret sauce, what are some key ingredients?

I think in order to be successful in any industry you need to know your market, the community, and how to grow and maintain relationships. This is more than a business to us, it’s something we’re very passionate about.

Q: As a longtime ebook consumer, all I want is the ability to read the book I’ve just purchased. I am not opposed to DRM used in the right way, but your success comes from a mostly DRM-free purchasing experience. How do you convince publishers to make this (reader-friendly) move, and how do your customers react?

Although I personally prefer the ease of open format, the pragmatic part of me understands publishers need to do what they believe is going to be in the long-term interest of their business. As a reader, I want the houses to stay open and solvent enough to feed my addiction. Some publishers believe DRM helps safeguard their position. Unfortunately, it also seems to be a deterrent to the average reader. The vast majority of our customer support issues are DRM issues. The vast majority of our sales are of open format books. We do share general business statistics every year with publishers—one of which is the percentage of DRM v Non-DRM sales. I’m looking forward to Harlequin’s launch of Carina Press. I think it’s a move that’s going to be very well received by our customers.

Q: Do you think readers know what DRM is or do you think they know there’s a barrier between them and reading?

The average reader wants to make a purchase and start reading. That’s their expectation. That’s what they’ve become accustomed to in the print world. Digital can be advantageous. They don’t have to wait for their local bookstore to open or wait for the postman to arrive on their doorstep. With the click of a few buttons they can begin reading instantly—if they have the correct file type, software, etc. In my opinion anything we can do to remove barriers in the delivery system is a plus from the perspective of the reader and there are readers who consider something as simple as having to download software a barrier.

Q: How does it feel to be on the leading edge of the book retailing revolution? You are a 21st century bookseller.

Barb and I both feel very lucky to have launched this business when we did. We’re having a blast. It’s an exciting time for the industry. Things are moving quickly, technology is growing and advancing. We’re thrilled to be a part of it.

Q: In your Publishing Perspectives article, you noted that Adobe is far and away the leading format, and this corresponds to my research about how people read. However, are we talking traditional PDF or running the file through Adobe Digital Editions? (Yep, I break out in hives when dealing with ADE)

Traditional PDF – it’s the gateway drug to eBooks. Almost everyone has read a PDF document and is familiar with Adobe Reader.

Q: Also in your Publishing Perspectives piece, you mentioned providing tech support to readers. Publishers have been making noise about selling ebooks directly to consumers, and direct customer support is not something they’ve dealt with on any scale. Can you discuss the various support issues you face a bit more? What are the biggest technical problems readers face?

The customer support issues for a digital bookseller are primarily technical. I would estimate less than 5 percent are typical bookseller questions (i.e. asking for recommendations, requests for a particular title). Although some publishers are talking about selling ebooks, we’re hearing from others who are wanting to step back from retail and focus on their primary business—publishing. I do think it’s possible to do both, but it’s difficult to do both well. Customers are expecting more and more in terms of their buying experience and the complexity of support needs are escalating. Part of the challenge is that needs are idiosyncratic. There are multiple variables – the file type, browser, desktop operating system, reading device, reading software, virus software, etc.

Q: Shatter this myth for me: romance readers aren’t tech savvy.

Romance readers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tech wizards. Some we have to teach to copy and paste. We encounter more of the former than the latter, but we are quick to point out that for many this is new technology and we don’t want anyone to feel self-conscious about needing to ask for help. One thing that does seem to be universally true is that romance readers are busy people. Because we recognize that, we endeavor to make things as simple as possible for them. So much of life is already challenging.

Q: Now that the agency model is all the rage (though it’s still a work in progress), what kind of impact do you anticipate for your business?

Most of our small to mid-sized publishers (who are also almost exclusively non-DRM) have subscribed to the agency model from the beginning. They set their own pricing, we don’t change it, and they can’t undersell. This model has worked very well for us and we’d be happy to see more of it.

Q: Traditionally, publishers haven’t learned much about their customers while retailers have known far more. What are your thoughts about providing more information to publishers about customers and their habits?

We believe in providing publishers with information that will lead to improved product. That’s in everyone’s best interest and one of the reasons we share so openly with them.

Q: What’s on your ebook device, experience, format wishlists?

I read almost exclusively on my iPhone. I buy ePub or secure eReader and use Stanza. I have just about every ebook reader out there at my disposal, but the iPhone is already with me all of the time and I have hundreds of books on it. My number one wish at the moment is for Adobe to create an ADE app for the iPhone that will work. Reflow and ability to change font size. Are you listening Adobe???

In the meanwhile, publishers who must apply DRM, please create secure eReader files so I can easily read your books. I want to read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Flirt in Stanza and yes, I’d pay the $23.95 for it.

If the eReader folks are listening, could you get on that release for the Android? The one that will allow readers to read DRM content? That would be sweet.

Are you getting the impression I could go on and on?

Q: How are space cowboys selling? Just curious.

Hmm. Is it just a coincidence that I happen to be working my way through my Firefly DVD’s? Cowboys (in or out of space) are doing well. Shifters are very popular at the moment. In general it seems hot, edgy, cross-genre is in.

Thank you, Lori for answering my questions. I purposely held back from the thrilling topic of metadata — trust me, it’s what all the cool kids are talking about — because Lori recently talked to Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books about the magic of metadata. Read it!

Note: All Romance Ebooks is celebrating “28 Days of Heart”, a campaign to raise funds and awareness of heart disease. They’re highlighting members of their community and having lots of fun. As if you needed another reason to buy books!

File Under: The Business of Publishing

3 responses so far ↓

  • axel // Feb 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Hey, you’re writers, right? How about spelling out things like “DRM” the first time you use them in an article. That way, people who aren’t necessarily plugged into your tight little universe can understand what you’re talking about instead of being stuck in the middle of a conversation that has suddenly become meaningless.

  • Lori James // Feb 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Axel, you are so right. My apologies.

    DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a form of encryption that is frequently employed by publishers, primarily for the purpose of protecting against theft or unauthorized use of digital content.

    Lori James

  • 2010 Trend Analysis from All Romance eBooks | Dear Author // Jan 3, 2011 at 7:35 am

    [...] with all of you. I think that there are some really interesting data points.  (Here’s an interview Kassia Kroszer did with Lori James and one between Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches and Lori on the importance of [...]