Why Romance Readers Love Digital Books

If you listened to the 7-25-2016 Book Riot Podcast, you heard Jeff and Rebecca talking about a presentation at the Romance Writers of America annual conference. It was on romance readers’ book buying habits, called Romancing the Data, by

One of the stats that really stands out is the way romance readers have embraced ebooks:

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“Romancing the Data” by

And also the huge percentage of romance readers who buy ebooks:

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“Romancing the Data” by

I thought I’d take a stab at explaining why romance readers tend to read more in digital than readers of other genres. I’m no expert, but I’m an avid romance reader. I’m also a semi-early adopter of digital reading (I bought the second gen Kindle in 2009). And I’m a regular participant in romance discussions on the internet. So, here are my thoughts:

  1. History. Romance readers were primed to be early adopters of both digital books and ereaders. Amazon’s first Kindle launched in 2007 at a whopping $399. Who was going to buy that thing? Well, people who read a LOT, and could save money and space by buying digital. Harlequin was publishing digital versions of its books as early as 2006. As romance readers bought more ebooks, they created a larger market for new (or fairly new) small, independent romance publishers, like Ellora’s Cave, Loose ID, Freya’s Bower, Cleis Press, Bold Strokes Books, Siren Publishing, Changeling Press, Samhain Publishing, and others. These presses catered to specific niches that either didn’t exist or were underrepresented by mainstream romance presses, whether that meant erotic, paranormal, SFF, GLBTQ, or African-American romance. In short, romance started out as an industry leader in digital and has retained that lead.
  2. Disposable income and tech savvy. According to RWA statistics, the average romance reader is aged 30-55, earns $55000 a year, is college educated and has a partner. All of these things point to having a little more money and probably some new tech.
  3. Finding the stories readers are looking for. Following that first wave of independent ebook publishers, other digital first romance publishers have entered the market: Entangled, Riptide Publishing, and Crimson Romance, to name a few. Although there is overlap with romance offerings from the Big Five, these smaller houses still offer storylines, styles, and characters hard to find elsewhere.
  4. Price. All told, about half of romance readers read a book a week, compared to the average American who reads 12 books a year (although the median number of books read is 4). Older romance readers tend to read a lot of books, and are motivated to find ways to lower costs, whether they own an ereader or not. Ebooks often (but not always: Thanks agency pricing!) cost less than print books. Younger ones who probably aren’t settled in a career read fewer books, and are price sensitive too. then there’s the Overdrive app, making digital library loans a mere tap away.
  5. Trust in traditional publishing brands. All of the Big Five publishers offer multiple formats, including digital, and also have their own digital-first imprints: Carina Press (Harlequin/Harper Collins), Avon Impulse (Avon/Harper Collins), Forever Yours (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette), Loveswept and Flirt (Penguin Random House), Swerve (St. Martins Press), Swoon Reads (Macmillan), InterMix (Berkley/NAL), Pocket Star (Simon and Schuster) and Lyrical Press and Lyrical Shine (Kensington).
  6. It’s where many popular authors are.
    • A lot of popular, traditionally published authors now self-publish in digital format instead of, or in addition to, traditional publishing. Courtney Milan, Bella Andre, Laura Florand, Marie Force, Carly Phillips, Nalini Singh, Jennifer Ashley, Joan Wolf, Kit Rocha, Jessica Scott, Lara Adrian, and Thea Harrison, to name a few of the better known. Romance readers are very used to following favorite authors across platforms and publishing styles.
    • Backlists. Romance readers will glom the backlist of a new favorite author. This is encouraged by the genre itself which tends to be written in series. Many beloved writers have published their backlists in digital format only. And first books in a series are often heavily discounted.
  7. Portability. Did I mention we read a lot? Romance readers buy and borrow loads of books, and ebooks simply take up less space.
  8. Accessibility. Romance readers read everywhere. In line at the bank, at the office on breaks, on iPads while cooking, on our phones while driving down the interstate. (I kid! Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) With ebooks, a book is only as far away as a phone, tablet, ereader, or laptop. (And for romance readers with vision or motor issues, ebooks can be a godsend.)
  9. Privacy. Unfortunately, many romance readers have experienced unwanted attention, questions, or criticism when they buy or read romance in public. While paper romance covers usually telegraph genre, no one knows what you’re reading on an ereader. And you can buy and own erotic romance without worrying about who sees you doing it, or your young kids getting hold of it. Sure, many romance readers don’t give a rat’s ass about this, but for those that do, digital books are most welcome.
  10. Instant and desire-specific gratification. In my own case, and anecdotally among my friends, romance readers often go book shopping to find a book they “are in the mood for.” Surveys suggest romance readers buy for story first. We often lament that no book in our massive TBR piles will do. Sometimes you just have to have a Western with a friend-to-lovers trope and a blonde hero (or is that just me?). Maybe this is true of all genre readers (who tend to go digital in higher percentages overall than general fiction readers), but thanks to retailer search engines, it’s very easy to go purpose-driven shopping for specific tropes or plots.
  11. The indie publishing connection. Indie publishing and digital publishing are different things. An author could indie- (aka self-) publish in print (and did so for eons before ebooks), or e-publish with a digital first imprint at a major house. That said, indie publishing and digital publishing have fed each other in important ways.
    • Although self-published books can be very mainstream, some writers turn to self-publishing for books that can’t find a home with a publisher. Are loads of these utter crap? Yep. But some are unusual or niche stories editors don’t think will sell.
    • Independently-published digital books are often cheap (free or 99 cents).
    • Most romance readers buy their digital books through, where it’s hard to tell whether a book is indie published or published by a traditional publisher. With a more level playing field, self-published digital books have a much better chance at being discovered.
    • To keep prices down, among other motives, the subscription service Kindle Unlimited offers lots of romance that skews almost completely towards indie authors.

I can think of a few other possibilities, but they may be more of a stretch. For example, if romance readers tend to be avid readers, and if 59% of them are coupled up, maybe being able to read at night without keeping your partner awake. Or, maybe it’s true that women are better multitaskers than men (or at least believe the hype), and since 84% of romance readers are women, the appeal of being able to access a book while doing other things is extra strong.

Ok, the armchair from which I’m wildly speculating is about to burst into flames. What percentage, if any, of your reading is done digitally?

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