Reporting from this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, AFP’s Frederic Happe filed an amusing feature over the weekend about the somewhat recent—and astonishingly quick—rise of e-books with fictional erotic themes. It doesn’t exactly take a publishing futurist, of course, to understand why erotic e-books have attained such popularity, and as far as I can tell, there are really only two main factors in play here:

1. The breakaway success of EL James’ Fifty Shades trilogy has resulted in untold numbers of copycat attempts. To get a sense of just have prevalent erotica has lately become in the publishing industry, check out this AP article from last August. It reports that “[this season], booksellers and publishers expect at least a dozen novels to benefit from EL James’ multimillion-selling erotic trilogy, a list-topper since early spring, and new [titles] continue to be acquired.”

Here’s another blurb from the same article:

Cindy Hwang, executive editor at Berkley Books, says that thanks to “50 Shades” the door between erotica and mainstream fiction has been “kicked down completely.” The market, “this fascination with the uber-rich,” demands more masters of the universe, at least fictional ones.

2. Another significant cause of the rise of e-porn: Anonymity and the lack of the shame factor. Because when you’re reading porn in public, there’s really no reason to be embarrassed if you’re reading on a Kindle or a Nook; as far as all those judgmental strangers on the subway are concerned, you might as well be thumbing through the Old Testament.

From Frederic Happe’s aforementioned AFP piece:

“With no cover on display, an ereading device such as a Kindle makes the literature anonymous to the outside world,” says Giada Armani, who heads up erotic literature publishing house Giadas. “I think that women have always wanted to read erotic literature. But what woman brandishes an erotic book in the underground or at work whose cover displays the silhouette of a naked man?” she said. And, as Ferris pointed out, the reader can also retain their own anonymity by downloading ebooks without having to go into a shop. “You can even erase it once you’re finished so nobody knows what you’ve been reading,” he said.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier about the sudden mainstreaming of erotica e-lit: Publishers willing to jump into the fray are making a bit of money; readers are discovering new books that they can’t put down; authors are trying their luck with a new-to-them genre. According to publishing exec Peter Ferris, who works for a British erotica imprint known as Xcite Books, “[Xcite’s] print book sales [of erotica] were starting to decline [prior to the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey]. Getting into the major book stores was difficult. Some stores [were] not happy to take them and the buyers [were] very hard to reach.”

But now, things are different. “[Fifty Shades] raised the attention level [of] people’s awareness of erotica,” Ferris says, in the AFP article. “It made it more mainstream, more acceptable. It’s no longer something you don’t talk about; it’s in the bestsellers’ charts. Xcite now expects its ebook sales to be three times higher than [its] printed book sales this year.”

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  1. Rob is right. Erotica has been the growth industry for the ebook market for years, starting with the emergence of Ellora’s Cave publishing house.

    All that 50 SHADES did was make the mainstream media aware of it, and, as usual, they didn’t bother to do their homework on this market.

    And erotica and porn aren’t the same thing so don’t misuse the terms. Erotica is about emotion and sensation. Porn is more insert tab A into slot B.

  2. @ Charlie: What about age verification? A brick and mortar store can turn a 13-year-old away trying to buy smut with mom’s stolen credit card. The Internet, not so much. Some poor girl was horribly castigated on some writing forum — not sure if it was Absolute Write or maybe even — for making this argument. She also indicated that people attracted to this sort of thing probably have some underlying mental disorder that would predict Ted Bundy-like behavior, as Christian Grey preys on Anastasia in a similar way as he did his victims. This book encourages rape, and its author should be “sectioned” under a U.K. ASBO (anti-social behaviour order — using the original British spelling) for the blatant irresponsibility she — perhaps the reincarnated female Marquis de Sade — demonstrated here.

    After all, you can’t spell BDSM without DSM:

    (U 04 Sexual Masochism Disorder and U 05 Sexual Sadism Disorder)

    Or take a look at what I call sex for dummies, and why I call it that you’ll see in a moment. Now, the Romans were not exactly the most benevolent culture in their own right, and certainly had a tendency towards what might be called sadistic punishment and sexual depravity. But it was in 45 B.C. that the Roman orator Cicero gave a speech entitled “De Finibus Valorum et Malorum” (“The Extremes of Good and Evil”). Within the speech is this passage, translated from the original Latin text:

    “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…”

    “There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain…”

    If you’ve been anywhere on the Internet (and who hasn’t?) and seen samples of web templates or PowerPoint templates or fonts or printing samples elsewhere, you may know the entirety of the passage as the “Lorem Ipsum” (the old “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet…”). Otherwise known as dummy text, hence my use of the phrase sex for dummies. Dummy in this case simply means placeholder, but even a total idiot could realize that it violates human instinct to drive oneself in the direction of deliberately inflicted pain and suffering — and a violation of basic human benevolence to drive onself in the direction of deliberately INFLICTING pain and suffering or harm upon someone else.

    Therefore it is irrational, as the DSM suggests, to think positively about or be enticed by this sort of thing, and E.L. James should indeed be “sectioned” as her predecessor the Marquis de Sade was too. The book should also be destroyed and its genre banned: if a United States court could render out of print a book on becoming a hired killer (“Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors,” Paladin 1983) if real murders occurred due to the accused claiming instruction derived from its contents, then so too could “Fifty Shades” and/or its ilk — which I would argue have no redeeming value and are dangerous in that they glamorize and encourage rape, abuse of women, and sexual coercion — be taken out of print, and indeed they should.

    One parallel worth noting: there must be something wrong with women in general, especially middle-aged “desperate housewives.” Both “Hit Man” and “Fifty Shades” were written by women of the same demographic, compiling material from other people’s work. The latter was a “fan fiction” derived from the “Twilight” series, while the former was compiled from story-lines of daytime soap operas and prime-time crime dramas. Perhaps it is best to keep women like the nymphomaniac James and the pseudonymous woman calling herself “Rex Feral” away from television, the Internet and maybe even dirty books. Or maybe both should just have had to get clinical psychological help.

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