Observations after the Buchmesse, part #2. Best-selling self-published genres in Italy and their readers

Following the previous article analysing the situation of digital publishing and self-publishing in Italy as possible market for foreign self-publishers, I’m here again to expose my considerations after being a guest together with Matthias Matting (German self-publisher), at an event titled “Think Local, Act Global: How to Reach a Global and Successful Audience through Self-Publishing”, which took place during the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014) at Kobo stand. Our talk was moderated by Camille Mofidi, European Manager of Kobo Writing Life.

The omnibus of “Deserto rosso” (my science fiction series) among the books exposed in the stand of
Kobo during the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014.

This time we’re going to take a look at the genres working well in Italy, both regarding traditional and self-publishing titles, and at the attitude of readers regarding the latter.

The genres counting the highest number of sales are thrillers/mystery/detective stories (collectively indicated as thriller & gialli) and of course romance. Italian readers also like literary fiction, but in the end, genre fiction sells more. For traditional publishers this applies particularly for foreign bestsellers.

Science fiction, instead, is considered a niche genre, not because there aren’t enough people willing to read it, but because it has always been considered by traditional publishers as an entertainment genre only to be offered as mass market editions. Traditional publishers don’t risk publishing science fiction books as hardback, for instance, or to spent too much money on them, like they do with thrillers, unless it’s a book which has been adapted in a movie. And things are not so different with e-books.

Talking about self-publishing, things are a bit different. Thrillers and romance, including erotic romance, are still the genres in which self-publishers get the biggest income, and are the genres with more available titles, but it isn’t so rare to find science fiction books at fairly high chart positions, even if not so many as for the former, but they are typically less expensive. Actually, a best-selling science fiction book is rarely priced over 99 eurocent.
Novellas sell quite well, but short stories are unlikely to be bought even at the lowest price.

In general the readers still look with suspicion at self-published books because, unfortunately, a big part of them are not good at all. But they are starting to give them a try now, much more than two years ago, for three reasons:

1) self-published e-books have become generally better. This doesn’t regard only the quality of the writing but also the technical quality of the e-book. It’s quite normal that a good self-published e-book is technically far better formatted than one by a traditional publisher. We put more efforts in the details;

2) self-published e-books cost far less than traditionally published e-books. Some traditional publishers had understood this and had started lowering their prices, but on the average a self-published book costs less. There are many self-published books costing less than 1 euro, and it’s rare that they cost more than 2,99 euros, unless they are a box set or an omnibus. I have yet to find a self-published book daring to cost more than 3,99 euros and hoping to sell a copy;

3) self-published e-books explore non-commercial genres and subgenres, like science fiction. We are free to write and publish the genre we want and to write in different genres, so as to meet the demands of many different readers, who are bored to get those pre-made books from the traditional publishers. Our readers have the real chance to find books suitable to them even if they are in a genre you normally won’t find amongst the one published by a traditional publisher.

I must also say that readers who read self-publishers’ e-books can be very different depending on the genre. They would rather always not spend more than 99 eurocent for a book or maximum 1.99 euros. But once they find an author they really like, they can get to 2.99 euros or a bit more.
You have to conquer them.

For genres where self-published books tend to outnumber traditionally published ones, like science fiction, you generally find more competition regarding the price, so it’s harder to sell a book over 2 euros.
In other genres like thriller and romance, which are very crowded both with traditionally and self-published books, the target is more varied. The same people willing to spend 9.99 euros for the latest thriller by Patricia Cornwell are also willing to give a try to my book at 2.69 euros. Of course books at 99 cents sell more, but if the reader likes the author then tends to buy other books from them at a higher price.

Anyway it’s never easy to sell at the beginning. Getting to sell well is the result of a long path.
Personally I’ve become popular with a science fiction series, selling very well but not earning a lot because the single books cost less from 69 eurocents (yes, 69, you read well) to 1.49 euros (but it was 86 eurocents at the beginning). Then I’ve published a thriller, which is less popular but is selling very well and is giving me a good result in income.
But I was helped by the fact I was already quite popular thanks to the previous books and that’s why I’ll talk about my example and my strategies in the Italian market in the next article of this series.