Speaking of Baen, Wired misses a perfectly good opportunity to speak of Baen in an article about why big publishers seem to think genre fiction is the future of e-books. The article looks at how all the recent digital-only imprints the Big Six have been launching lately all seem to focus on genre fiction—science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance. Traditionally, these markets’ sales have always lagged behind “mainstream” literary fiction.
However, Random House VP and digital publishing director Allison Dobson says that the digital marketplace has different priorities. Genre fans were the biggest e-book “early adopters” and even now some genre titles have as much as 60-70% digital sales.
There are a number of different suggestions as to why this is. The “no one can judge me by my book’s cover” theory is popular, but so too is the notion that genre fans tend to be voracious readers, as genre fiction is frequently serialized and e-readers make it easy to grab more and more books without having to wait to get to a library or store.
What they didn’t mention is that many of the earliest successful e-book sellers tended to be genre—Hard Shell Word Factory, Ellora’s Cave, and, of course, Baen. So genre fans were introduced to e-books earlier than most, and primed to see their biggest advantages. Of course, those were the days when e-books made up something like half a percent of total book sales, at least for the Big Six, so it’s hard to imagine they could have had that much of an impact. But then again, how much of sales did they account for among those who published through those e-book stores? Maybe they weren’t buying so many Big Six titles because the Big Six weren’t publishing the stuff they wanted.
Then there’s also the “meta” benefit of reading your books from something very much like what characters would be using in the books you are yourself reading. You can’t blame SF fans for wanting to act out their SF fantasies. If we don’t yet have flying cars and rocket packs, at least we can have every e-book we own right there at our fingertips!
Digital-only has benefits for publishers as well. They can experiment with publishing works of varying lengths without being hostage to minimum necessary lengths for book binderies, and they can get books a lot faster to market without having to worry about setting up for print runs. They can also change the cover, title, and so on to see how they affect sales. Of course, they also run up against self-publishers, but the big six publishers Wired talked to felt confident that they had something to offer to lure writers away from self-publishing, such as the promise of possibly making it into print as well.
As a genre fan myself, I tend to look at the explosion of genre e-books as a bit of vindication. All these years, people have talked down SF’s sales potential: “Maybe it was big in the past, but it’s a niche market anymore, and no one wants to read that stuff except the hard-core fans.” But gosh, look who’s driving e-book sales now?