E-books pave way for more blockbusters, serials

Fri Jun 25, 2010 6:03pm EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stieg Larsson copycats take note: The slow rise of electronic books is paving the way for more safe-bet fiction blockbusters and serial-type books, at least in the short term, according to some book experts.

With book sales stagnating in recent years, the nascent e-books market has thrown the industry into turmoil. In response, large publishers are taking fewer financial risks and betting more of their dollars on established authors, said Eileen Gittins of self-publishing company Blurb.com.

"In the face of these economics, publishers just cannot take the risk," said Gittins. "They need some sure wins."

Similar to movie studios' betting on well-known franchises to bring box office gold, Gittins said publishers want to market more blockbuster authors writing serial books featuring a distinctive leading character to lure repeat readers, as was seen with the success of prolific, late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, or crime fiction writers such as Michael Connelly.

With prices on the fledging e-book market still being battled over among larger publishers and makers of electronic readers, publishers still have yet to profit much from e-books, with the lower priced e-books eating into profit margins.

The e-book market has grown rapidly with wholesale revenue from e-book sales in the United States increasing to $91 million in the first quarter of 2010 from $55.9 million from the last quarter of 2009, according to International Digital Publishing Forum. But e-book sales still only account for 5-6 percent of overall U.S. book sales and less than 1 percent in Britain, The Financial Times reported this week.

Contrary to popular opinion, most of publishers' costs are developing and marketing authors, not the cost of printing and shipping books. Such costs don't lessen with e-books even though they sell for less than paper books, Gittins said.

That heightens pressure "to need to do blockbuster big titles because now there is even more pressure on them," said Gittins. "They are not really saving money with the e-book, all those costs are still there."   Continued...