Romance novels may have a future, but we are witnessing the sunset of the tome. I believe in George Dyson’s vision of a tomorrow where books of knowledge are oddities, relegated to the obscure depths of monasteries and search engines. It makes me a little sad and nostalgic. But my sadness is tempered by the sure understanding that is neither the last nor the first change in format for our accumulation of wisdom. The book is a fine and admirable device, but I do not doubt that clay tables and scrolls of papyrus had charms of their own.
A few months ago Tobias Buckell noticed a trend in his book sales that most midlist novelists don’t typically see. His book Crystal Rain, which had been released in mass market paperback a year before, experienced a sudden spike in sales, more than doubling from the previous week. Perhaps even more noticeable was the jump in sales of the sequel to that novel, Ragamuffin, which saw an even more dramatic increase.
This was unusual because most titles by midlist authors are sold within the first few months of the release date; after that they drift quickly into obscurity as newer books are given shelf space in book stores, often times pushing the older novels out of the store completely.
But what caused this sudden increase? Because of all the myriad factors that drive product buys it’s incredibly hard to pinpoint specific triggers, but it just so happened that the jump occurred right after Crystal Rain’s publisher, Tor Books, had released a free ebook version of the novel online.