Romance Writers of America reports that romance fiction makes up 13.4% of the $10 billion annual revenue tallied in consumer books. As they say in that business, that’s a lot of bodice ripping and bosom heaving.
The romance fiction publishing houses like Harlequin are leading the way in moving the mass market book reader from print to ebooks. In the romance segment, the numbers don’t lie; print book growth is down and 2011 ebook growth is up 150% over the previous year.
Harlequin’s strategy for success is digital first publishing and no digital rights management. Digital first publishing means that a new title goes straight to ebook format and skips a print version. Digital rights management, or DRM, is the restriction placed on the content to keep the reader from sharing with others. These are two major game changers for the entire publishing industry. If Harlequin is successful, others will follow. It will be interesting to see how this will impact other genres. Could this mean the acceleration of the end of the printed book? Scandalous!
TCR: Why do you read romance novels?
MW: Pure escapism. I read romance novels because I like happy endings. Reading is what I do for entertainment. To be entertained I don’t want sad; I don’t want social commentary; I want boy-gets-girl then happy ending.
TCR: How has reading this genre affected you?
MW: One positive effect, believe it or not, is my vocabulary. Romance writers love to use big words and I look them up. One negative effect is that I don’t read as much socially important literature because I’m usually reading a romance novel in the free time I have (which is to say, not much).
TCR: What are your all time favorite books and authors in this genre?
MW: Stephanie Laurens used to be my all time favorite, but I’ve moved on to others. I like Mary Balogh, Lauren Willig, and Sabrina Jeffries. These ladies keep it light and inject humor. And of course, my all time favorite is Diana Gabaldon’s The Outlander series. She may not like to have her work characterized as romance fiction, but baby, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck!
For a quirky view of the romance genre and its readers, This Common Reader recommends Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. Caution: R-rated language.