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Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive

James Leynse for The New York Times

Sarah Wendell, who blogs about romance novels, turns on her Kindle and joins the many readers who discreetly devour the books.

By JULIE BOSMAN

Sarah Wendell, blogger and co-author of “Beyond Heaving Bosoms,” is passionate about romance novels.

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Except for the covers, with their images of sinewy limbs, flowing, Fabio-esque locks or, as she put it, “the mullets and the man chests.”

“They are not always something that you are comfortable holding in your hand in public,” Ms. Wendell said.

So she began reading e-books, escaping the glances and the imagined snickers from strangers on the subway, and joining the many readers who have traded the racy covers of romance novels for the discretion of digital books.

If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable. Together, it turns out, they are a perfect couple. Romance is now the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market, ahead of general fiction, mystery and science fiction, according to data from Bowker, a research organization for the publishing industry.

Publishers and retailers, spying an opportunity, have begun pursuing in earnest those enthusiastic romance readers who have abandoned print for digital.

“Romance,” said Matthew Shear, the executive vice president and publisher of St. Martin’s Press, which releases 40 to 50 romance novels each year, is “becoming as popular in e-books as it is in the print editions.”

When “Maybe This Time,” a lighthearted ghost romance by the best-selling author Jennifer Crusie, went on sale in August, it sold as many e-books as hardcover books in its first week, Mr. Shear said, a phenomenon that he began noticing this summer with other romance titles.

(more)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/books/09romance.html?_r=1