E-books: the acceptable face of bonkbusters

Apparently romance novels are selling like hot cakes on e-readers. No embarrassing covers that way, you see...

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Last Updated: 28 Sep 2012
We were intrigued to read a report in the New York Times this week suggesting that romance novels are now the fastest-growing segment of the e-book market, according to research firm Bowker. The theory is that while some people might be a bit embarrassed to be seen on the Tube with the latest bodice-ripper, e-readers allow for a completely discreet read. Whether that’s true or not, the genre is clearly doing wonders for e-book sales. With Jamie Oliver’s new tome breaking records this week, maybe the publishing industry’s prospects aren’t as grim as some would have us believe?

Call us Luddites if you will, but here at MT we find it quite hard to imagine the day when we stop reading paper books. However, readers of romance novels clearly have no such qualms. Bookseller Barnes & Noble told the NYT that it expects sales of romance e-books to outstrip print sales at some point next year. And you can see the attraction: we're not sure we'd want anyone to know we were reading the likes of Glorious Enslavement, Decent Exposure or Prince Voronov's Virgin on the way to work.

Romance novels are a huge market. Mills & Boon (the Anglo-Canadian publisher of all the titles just mentioned) sells an extraordinary 200m books a year worldwide. Like many other publishers in this genre, it's moving aggressively into the digital sphere: its enhanced e-books include Regency romances where you can click for historical context, or romantic digital manga that the Japanese like to read on their mobiles.

The genre also has a loyal following: B&N reckons romance fans are buying, on average, three books a month. Some argue that e-books are just cannibalising print sales - but on the flipside, they also allow publishers to make more money from their back catalogue and out-of-print titles.

And here's another ray of hope for publishers: it's just emerged that Jamie Oliver's new book, 30-Minute Meals, has become the fastest-selling non-fiction title of all time, shifting a quite extraordinary 735,000 copies in its first ten weeks on release (it's now on course to be the biggest-selling cookbook ever). What's more, even amongst the carnage of the HMV results yesterday, it was notable that book sales were down just 1.5% - not great, but a sight better than the figures for music, films and video games.

So there are still plenty of people buying good old-fashioned books. While e-readers provide an alternative option choice for those of you too embarrassed to be sitting on the train reading a book with Jamie Oliver's mug on the cover.

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