Publishers are planning to whet readers' appetites for physical publications in 2012 by first releasing e-book-only or early digital content in time for Christmas, with strategies based on attracting new digital readers.
Publishers' plans include a new programme of digital-only Short Reads from Pan Macmillan, with titles coming from authors Peter James and Emma Donoghue among others. Its first range of "e-book-first" launches in early December and aims to build "momentum, digital chart positioning and buzz" ahead of print publication. Titles include The Wife Who Ran Away by Tess Stimson.
Picador will also start its year-long e-book initiative just before Christmas of promoting one classic backlist title a week at a reduced r.r.p. to mark its 40th anniversary next year.
Pan Macmillan digital director Sara Lloyd said: "A key theme this year is digital-only and digital-first, capitalising on digital to deliver benefits to the entire business by using it to build buzz, or introduce new readers to our authors through carefully designed digital products and promotions."
Simon & Schuster will release exclusive e-book titles from sci-fi/fantasy authors Kevin J Anderson and Kresley Coal, and will publish seven backlist titles from William Kennedy digitally on 22nd December, and in physical format next year.
Hodder will release its second series of Chris Ryan Extreme e-books, with Little, Brown releasing The Abbey by Chris Culver as an e-book exclusive in December, hoping to build word of mouth to a "critical mass of interest" for summer 2012 paperback release.
Publishers are also launching Christmas-themed products, with Bloomsbury, Hodder and Random House all releasing festive e-book exclusives. Hodder will release an e-book-only retelling of A Christmas Carol written by horror writer Whitley Strieber and called The Christmas Spirits, on Monday.
Random House will release Six Geese-a-Laying, an e-exclusive short story by Sophie Kinsella on 16th December, and from Bloomsbury Reader comes an enhanced e-book of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, read by his descendant Monica Dickens and including an audio interview with her as well as the text of classic poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Bloomsbury digital media director Stephanie Duncan called it a "no-brainer purchase" because of its £1.99 cost.
Titles from publishers' dedicated digital programmes will also feature this Christmas for the first time. Macmillan Bello and Bloomsbury Reader will both be releasing titles ahead of Christmas, and Penguin and Random House's short fiction programmes, Penguin Shorts and Random House's Storycuts, will both be launched ready for the seasonal period.
Some of this autumn's biggest hardbacks are being supported by digital publishing, with HarperCollins releasing an I, Partridge app, set in Alan Partridge's writing room, and Michael Joseph releasing an enhanced e-book of comedian Rob Brydon's autobiography, Small Man in a Book.
HarperCollins digital director David Roth-Ey said it was a way of attracting more casual readers, as well as creating "a multi-format assault on the British public". Another HC app launching before Christmas is one of Paddington Bear.
Other picture book apps hoping to tap into the iPad market include Pan Macmillan's enhanced version of Rod Campbell's Dear Zoo, and Faber's beefed-up "QI" app. Random House digital marketing and new product development director Hannah Telfer stressed the importance of having the apps "front of mind" for new device owners, with publishers underlining the importance of retailers' promotions in aiding discoverability.
Roth-Ey said: "I think we all have our little secrets up our sleeves to capture readers. Digital enables us to compete more directly—we have a lot more tools at our disposal."
These digital plans come as print sales across the market are down on this time last year, with total spend on printed books down £4.4m year on year this week, to £33.5m.