A few weeks ago, someone who saw me reading on my Kindle while my son had his karate class asked me if I’d heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey. As I usually am when anyone asks me if I’ve heard of a book and I haven’t, I was a little embarrassed (never mind that with a gazillion books published every year, it’s not possible to know about every last one of them or that my memory for titles and authors’ names is shockingly poor for someone who, well, works with titles and authors—do I sound a little defensive?). I asked her what it was about and she told me it was a romance that she was trying to get a copy of without success. I suggested Amazon and promptly forgot all about the discussion.
Of course, I now know that Fifty Shades of Grey is the latest publishing phenom (an allegedly not very well written kinky sex fest for Twilight fans who thought the vampire saga was too squeaky clean, according to Jezebel) and that Vintage has plopped down a ton of money for the print rights to a book that is currently selling like hotcakes…online.
Which raises a number of interesting questions.
As the Wall Street Journal points out in a piece about the rise in sales of books that women have traditionally been embarrassed to be seen reading in public, e-readers have made sales of romance and erotica skyrocket precisely because of the privacy they afford. So, how wise is a seven-figure investment for print rights to a book that people may not want others to see them reading?
And, does all of this mean that books in these categories will go exclusively digital in the near future? I know lots of smart, professional women with a weakness for what we used to call “bodice rippers” in the good old days (before Kindles and romance branding) who didn’t want to be caught dead on the subway behind a cover of some buxom lass being ravished by a half-naked Fabio type. I can also imagine all the soccer moms who don’t want their kids to know what kinds of books they’re devouring while they extol the virtues of Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter.
Personally, I do think that e-readers are liberating in that way. In my line of work, I occasionally have to read things that may be a little hard to explain to casual acquaintances or even my six-year-old. What about you guys? Do you find yourselves sneaking around reading naughty things on your e-readers? And, do you think this is one of the “intangibles” that publishing people have overlooked when trying to figure out the value of e-books vs. print books?