I’ve spent a goodly amount of February shining a giant pink light on Cloud partner Harlequin (see my overview of its series, Harlequin’s quick-and-dirty guide to erotica, and Cloud librarian Maureen Roberts’s interview with KISS author Kelly Hunter). Before the month of love and eros slips away, romance fans and publishing pundits of all platforms should, if they haven’t already, meet Angela James, executive editor of Harlequin’s digital-first, DRM-free imprint, Carina Press.
Below is Cloud librarian Erin Shea’s scintillating email conversation with James (pictured above, with e-reader in hand), who lives and dies by her intimate, enviable connection with the romance audience. She’s also a believer in the library as discovery center and holds forth with ten years of digital publishing experience on the relationship among word of mouth, digital marketing, libraries, and sales.
ES: Carina Press is a “digital-first, DRM free” imprint of Harlequin. Would you explain what this means for library users downloading your ebooks?
AJ: This actually means very positive things for library users, because Carina Press has chosen not to put DRM, or Digital Rights Management, on our titles, including those bought by libraries. This means library users can easily move the files they check out from the library to their device of choice. I have had a number of librarians tell me that, because of this, they often use Carina Press titles to demonstrate to patrons how to move files to a device, because we make it quite painless.
ES: Your imprint primarily publishes genre fiction. Do you think genre fans consume their reading in a way that makes a DRM-free business model more sustainable than, say, nonfiction?
AJ: I don’t consider myself an expert on the nonfiction market or its consumers, so it’s difficult to answer this question with any confidence. Anecdotally, I’ve heard many nonfiction publishers, especially textbook publishers, say DRM free is a nonstarter in their part of the industry. On the other hand, I’ve also heard fiction publishers say that.
On the fiction side, I think some of the hesitation from publishers comes not just from the publishers and their concerns with reader usage of DRM-free material, but also from the pressure they get from some authors and agents to continue the use of DRM because of their concerns with reader usage.
ES: Carina Press caters to niche and emerging reader markets. Do you worry about customers finishing a title and then passing it on digitally to a friend for free? Or do you see this as a way to build word of mouth?
AJ: Yes, I do see it as a way to build word of mouth. I’m going to use myself as an example. I’m an avid reader; in 2012, I read between 410-420 books. In short, I’m a publisher’s dream come true! But despite the fact that I’m willing to spend several thousand dollars a year on books, I still encounter many that I’d like to read but am hesitant to purchase because I’m uncertain of the author’s writing ability, storytelling ability, or whether I can trust her or him with plot elements.
Being able to get the book from a friend (or a library!) allows me to experiment with authors, stories, and even genres I wouldn’t otherwise try. Because of the wide availability of books to choose from, if borrowing the book by some legitimate means isn’t available to me, I simply skip it. However, if I am able to borrow it, and enjoy it, I am willing in the future to become a paying customer of that author. If the author has a preexisting backlist, I’ll invest in the backlist.
I don’t think I’m that unique in this regard (perhaps unique in how much I read but not unique in wanting to be cautious of where I choose to spend my reading dollars).
ES: Ebook discovery is a hot topic in Library Land. Browsing a digital collection is an inherently different experience than perusing a physical bookshelf. Because of this, librarians are constantly thinking about how they can streamline ebook discovery. How do you market your digital-first titles to new audiences?
AJ: In many ways, digital-first marketing is much the same as marketing print. We advertise in key online places, as well as experiment with niche online places. We do etailer co-ops, seek out reviews, send newsletters, engage with our audience in social media channels, etc. But with the rise of digital and the rise of the reader also being online, we’re seeing how important word of mouth along with the right pricing strategy is. But if a title can generate excellent word of mouth, that’s the most valuable marketing!
ES: Would you be open to a library purchasing Carina Press ebooks and then assigning their own in-house DRM to those titles?
AJ: You know, that’s something no one has ever asked me before. It’s a larger business decision, so we’d definitely be open to a discussion on the pros and cons of this. It would be a fascinating discussion!
ES: You are a self-proclaimed advocate for digital publishing; how does your point of view influence your stance on ebook lending models for libraries?
AJ: I think there are two things that predispose me to being a fan of ebook lending in libraries. The first is that I’m, as I said earlier, an avid reader. So I definitely often see things with a reader and consumer’s viewpoint, even while understanding and evaluating from the publisher point of view.
The second is that I’ve been in digital publishing for a decade, so I’ve seen the growth of the industry and seen up close the readership changes. Both of these things make me a fan of libraries as well as a consumer of ebook lending via libraries myself.
ES: Finally, do you have any advice for publishers who are considering licensing their ebooks to libraries?
AJ: I wouldn’t presume to tell another publisher how to do business, so no true advice. Instead, I’ll say that being open to library lending has been advantageous for us in building relationships with the libraries, with authors (and for authors to build relationships with libraries) and with readers.