The Era of Experimentation
What are the markets to look for now in adult titles? Murray says the fiction market is flat to down over last year while nonfiction is growing slightly. “The information moving through the Web is affecting our business greatly,” he says. “How-to books have always been popular, but with so many tutorials online, you really have to bring something special to the table.”
Murray says HarperCollins’ number of titles will be cut by 5 percent to 10 percent in the next two years, with a greater focus on quality and maybe those hopeless romantics. “[Romance fiction] has done better than anticipated. It’s one of the most loyal audiences you’ll find.”
Regardless of genre, mobile content is something that some publishers believe is critical to the future bottom line. That’s why HarperCollins Australia, which publishes 120 titles a year, decided to experiment with mobile distribution of free book chapters to lure new audience members.
The company’s publishing director, Shona Maday, says that although the strategy hasn’t resulted in earth-shattering purchases, she believes that could change as the downloads get simpler and word of mouth grows.
“It’s not so different from the sample chapters you used to get at libraries,” she says, “but if we can make the transition from reading that chapter to purchasing the book as easy as possible, then good sales can follow.”
Maday says for mobile to take off, it’s going to take companies’ understanding that there’s a slow uptake to most new technological practices. “If the organization doesn’t get behind the initiatives and keeps on pulling the plug if they don’t make money right away, then we won’t be able to take advantage of mobile. Most companies should probably be farther along in mobile than they are.”
Back at HarperCollins in the states, Murray believes we’re still waiting on a proper middleman to allow the mobile space to catch on in the way iPods did for music. “One or two companies are trying to bridge the gap between publishing to cellular … but the models are pretty weak right now,” he says.