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HarperCollins' Avon Impulse: Digital trendsetter?

Though the Avon Impulse business model raises questions, Kassia Krozser says it might just work.

AvonImpulseLogo.pngAvon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, has launched an all-digital line, Avon Impulse. Matthew Flamm explained the publisher’s plans in a post for Crain’s New York Business:

The imprint will put out one original e-romance a week. There will be no shipping and printing costs, and authors will not be paid advances. Authors do better with e-books however, since they’re paid a royalty rate of 25% of the net sale. With paperbacks, they’re paid 8% to 10% of the list price, which works out to be considerably less.

Flamm pointed out that Amazon pays 70% royalty, but it is important to note that the 25% royalty Avon Impulse will pay is only for the first 10,000 copies — after 10,000, the royalty increases to 50%.

In an email interview, Booksquare.com owner Kassia Krozser discussed this all-digital move and noted a couple of concerns.

What are your initial thoughts on an all-digital romance imprint?

Kassia KrozserKassia Krozser: This is a smart move by HarperCollins/Avon. A digital-first imprint allows them to experiment with content in a relatively inexpensive way. With a print program, there is less incentive to push the boundaries of genre and style, while, as proven in the past decade and a half, digital-first and digital-only presses have been able to explore new ideas. These smaller houses have frequently published books that authors are told readers don’t want, only to discover readers do want new story types, and they’re willing to pay for them.

If Avon plays this smart, they can become a trendsetter in romance fiction.

What are some potential issues that might make this not work?

Kassia Krozser: Where I have some concern is the business model, as outlined in the FAQ on the Avon Impulse website (and noted in Smart Bitches’ reporting). Avon is offering a 25% royalty on net receipts — net is undefined, but I am assuming it means price customer paid less commission/agency fees — for the first 10,000 units sold, increasing to 50% thereafter. I love that the royalty is increasing, that’s a very smart move, but the 25% royalty is not particularly competitive with other players in this marketplace; 30-35% would be more in line with established players in the digital-first market.

Another concern is the line’s DRM. Again, other players in this space make a point of touting their books as DRM-free. It’s a great marketing tool for them. While there are a lot of new readers who are relatively unsophisticated about DRM and buying ebooks, the established reader — a reader likely to champion a new imprint — has certain expectations.

How do you think authors will respond?

Kassia Krozser: Authors will be comparing what Avon offers when it comes to digital-first against other digital publishers. For these authors, there are known trade-offs: no advance but higher royalties and faster reporting, less money but faster time to market, no marketing dollars but community-based efforts that get the word out. Avon, obviously, has some leverage in that they have a strong print program, and will be looking at Impulse authors for that program. Those will factor into author decisions. The question becomes how well this imprint stacks up against other publishers in the same space.

What about the goal of publishing a book per week — is that achievable?

Kassia Krozser: Publishing a book a week can be done. The trick is to build up a catalog before going live, and then have a steady stream of titles in the pipeline. There will have to be a team of editors working on Impulse titles to keep up this pace. Presumably HarperCollins is hiring additional editors since I suspect their regular editorial staff is full-time busy. It’s a lot of work and requires good digital workflow. Remember the speed-to-market point — an author who isn’t receiving an advance is going to want a book on the shelves, virtual or physical, in a timely manner. Any delays are money out of that author’s pocket (or perceived money).

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  • Mia Amato

    I’m a little surprised that no mention was made that HC’s Impulse is merely their imitator of Carina Press, the wildly successful ebook-only imprint from Harlequin (one of HC’s major competitors in the romance arena). Before congratulating HC for reinventing the wheel, a few points that seem to be glossed over include:

    1. Most ebook-only presses produce, like O’Reilly, DRM-free titles. The romance audience endures DRM but not quietly, as several forum sites, such as SB, often show.

    2. To offer an author 25% of net is pretty coy, since “net” can easily be zero depending on publisher charges. Other publishers charge percentages of cover price: this type of accounting is more transparent to author, agent, and publisher alike.

    3.It’s no trick to turn out an ebook a week on a weekly schedule. Carina does 4 or more per week and has been doing so for over a year; other ebook-only romance houses that have been around longer have even bigger publishing programs that would rival mainstream print houses.