Monday, February 20, 2012

Ebook sales are being driven by downmarket genre fiction

Publishers face secrecy over sales and an absence of industry-wide data to help them plot strategy

Kindle-owning bibliophiles are furtive beasts. Their shelves still boast classics and Booker winners. But inside that plastic case, other things lurk. Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls.

The ebook world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It's not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare. No cliche is left unturned, no adjective underplayed. At the time of writing, the bestselling Amazon Kindle book was Asylum Harbor, by Traci Hohenstein. Crime sells. Try a sample, I dare you. In digital, dross rises. But does this have implications for publishers' decision-making, as we increasingly migrate?

One of the problems publishers face in setting strategy is the absence of industry-wide data on ebook sales. Amazon, the dominant player, is secretive with its numbers. As the company revealed its mixed results for 2011 last week, all its UK division would say was that ebook sales over the past three months were up five-fold on the equivalent period last year. No actual data.

Amazon has started supplying data to Nielsen BookData in the US for the Wall Street Journal's bestseller lists, but the information is limited. UK publishers know their own genre titles do best as Amazon tells them this privately; across the industry there is nothing to go on.

A study in the US last year by Publishers Weekly and Bowker found that literary fiction outsold all forms of genre fiction, winning 20% of market share. But this figure includes classics. Most new Kindle owners buy an avalanche of classics in their initial excitement. All of Trollope for £1.99! All of Dickens for £3! But are they actually read? The genre of sci-fi came in at 19% and Christian fiction, God help us, third, at 16%. Continue reading at: