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Here’s something new: Little, Brown UK launches digital-first imprint for literary fiction

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Several publishers have launched digital-first imprints for genre titles — science fiction/fantasy, romance and so on. In these instances, books are published first as ebooks and aren’t released in print unless they take off. Until now, though, we haven’t seen a major publisher launch an e-imprint focused on new literary fiction — more serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews.

That appears to be changing with Little, Brown U.K.’s launch of Blackfriars, a digital-only imprint that will focus on new literary fiction and serious nonfiction. The Bookseller reports that the imprint will publish nine to twelve titles a year, and they’ll be eligible for submission to major literary prizes like the Man Booker Prize. The Bookseller notes:

Digital titles are accepted by prizes including the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, with the condition that they are published by “established” houses and made available for sale in print if the title is selected by the judges at the shortlisting or longlisting stage, respectively.

Blackfriars’ first titles will be published in June. Two of them were previously published in the US: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan by Penguin’s Riverhead and Benjamin Anastas’s Too Good to be True: A Memoir by Amazon (s AMZN). According to The Bookseller, the “royalty rates on the titles are largely the same as those on standard combined print and e-deals.” Traditional publishers’ standard royalty on ebooks is 25 percent. (I’ve asked Blackfriars if it is paying advances, and what its ebooks will cost.)

Without the promise of higher royalties, digital-first imprints are not likely to be many authors’ first choice when they consider their publishing options — especially when it comes to literary fiction, which generally has not sold as well in digital formats as genre fiction has. But imprints like Blackfriars could provide a home for books that have had a little trouble taking off, and the books will get additional marketing support from Little, Brown.