Cover Story: Hitting a Moving Target
"At Harlequin, we are in a unique position amongst publishers; we have a consumer brand," Lewis adds. "Maintaining our brand and continuing to build on our strong relationship with readers is very important for today and tomorrow."
Marrying a Print Focus
With a Flexible Future
Harlequin currently publishes an e-book version simultaneously with every print edition. "However," Lewis says, "the market is changing quickly, so we're always reviewing to ensure authors', readers' and Harlequin's best interests are being met"—whether through e-reader, mobile phone or personal computer.
Still, Lewis notes, print is by far the largest portion of Harlequin's business and is expected to be "for a long time." Even as the company proceeds with a massive backlist-digitizing process (approximately 2,000 backlist titles this year), the primary focus continues to be on print.
All of which is fine, Shatzkin says, as long as publishers recognize the fact that the print market is shifting.
"When you make an acquisition decision for a book that's going to be published in two years, that book will be published into a print market that will not be as robust as the print market is now," he says. "So you need to lead the target on those kind of decisions. Your algorithms and models need to take into account that print is diminishing."
Some publishers remain "once bitten, twice shy" with e-books because the technology was supposed to take off in the mid-'90s, Eckler says. But recent growth in the market has made the ascendency of e-books too real to ignore. We've entered a phase, he says, where those publishers who know how to be flexible and opportunistic in the face of readership trends will be rewarded.
"Look at your production process now," Eckler says. "Even if you're not willing to swallow backlist conversion … today, you can very easily start making choices in your production process to be able to support e-fill-in-the- blank processes."