Fifty Shades of …..WHAT?

The Book

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L.James. 

If you’re a reader, I assume you have heard of this bestselling book. If you’re a woman reader and have not heard of it, which cave have you been hiding in?

It appears to have taken the world by storm. And, not to be left behind, it’s therefore taken the media – including mainstream media – by storm.  Now, there’s even a trilogy.

The most popular description assigned to it is, get this, “mommy porn“. Partly because of this ascription, and partly because of the media storm, everyone appears to be reading it.  

For example, here’s how an honest-to-goodness reader review from Amazon begins:

“First, a disclaimer. I am a male senior citizen, a semi-retired gynecologist whose customary literary fare is spy novels and military techno-thrillers. I have never read a romance before, except perhaps for junior high’s “A Tale of Two Cities” (or was that a classic?) But after the recent hullabaloo over James’ “Fifty Shades,” I opted to give the genre a glance.”


The Buzz

Then, there’s The Daily Beast who had a feature article titled 50 Shades of Grey Speed Reed: The 14 Naughtiest Bits. Bet you clicked on that link!  🙂

Apparently for all those women who have been avid Mills & Boon and Harlequin romance fans, this book ups the ante quite a bit. It’s an erotic thriller that goes beyond its tamer sister books.

I say ‘apparently’ because I have not picked up my copy yet. Not because I don’t want to…I have to find out what all these other readers find so interesting – but because my Kindle is overloaded and still has more than a few interesting books in the queue. Plus, this is one way to keep this post G-rated (okay, PG).  🙂

The video below is a short interview by ABC news of author E.L. James, who apparently had no idea she would launch such a storm. 

Here’s something from the NY Times that makes you wonder what there is about this book that has created this buzz; the article goes on to take a stab at why this book has become so popular in spite of the glut:

Sex is a hard sell. It’s a great commodity, except that the market is glutted. In an age when almost all forms of erotica and pornography are available at any time, anywhere, on cable television, on the Internet and even on a smartphone, it’s almost impossible to find a fresh way to be risqué.

One of the best articles I found on the book was this one: A Closer Look at “Mommy Porn”. A couple of excerpts that might interest you:

That sex sells, even to women, should not, in 2012, come as a surprise. Yet something about this publishing phenomenon seems to have gotten under our culture’s skin. What’s different about Fifty Shades of Grey? It’s kinky.


What shocks the media is not that women are paying to read about a naïve college student submitting to a relative stranger; it’s that women–even adult, married women with children–are jonesing to read about sex at all.

So depending on which side of the debate (there is debate about this book, trust me) you are on – these little tidbits either intrigued you enough to get your own copy or turned you off adequately so you never want to see the book. That’s what makes life interesting….all this variety. 😉

But Why?

The theories so far about why this series of books has become such a rage include:

  • Very smart and successful use of viral marketing to get the word out
  • Rise in popularity of female erotica

The Exciting New World of Books!

By far the most interesting part of this whole phenomenon to me has been how this trilogy of books was published. This is the new world of publishing (what Seth Godin has been saying and writing about for a few years now). 

The novel was released as an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback by a virtual publisher based in Australia (the author lives in London).  They used blogs around the world to spread the word. It truly was viral marketing at it’s best. The publisher, The Writers’ Coffee Shop had a restricted marketing budget and relied largely on these book blogs for early publicity, with sales of the novel boosted by word of mouth recommendations.

Where is it today?

  • It topped the NY Times bestseller list on e-book downloads alone.
  • It is the number one best seller in UK.
  • Its initial success prompted a traditional publisher (Vintage) to pick it up and publish it as of this month – that’s the version you will see today on Amazon et al.
  • The movie rights have been sold to Universal.

Not bad for such a modest beginning, and the new age of publishing. Methinks this will lead to a lot more confidence and increased adoption of  e-publishing.  Some time back Seth Godin had written the following:

Who will save us?

Who will save book publishing?

What will save the newspapers?

What means ‘save’?

If by save you mean, “what will keep things just as they are?” then the answer is nothing will. It’s over.

Are the traditional publishers worried yet or will they continue to fight the tide? 

Leaving that question aside, for the rest of us, whether we are writers or creators, whether we are aspiring writers or creators and whether we are readers or consumers, these are exciting times indeed. It’s a time to celebrate!




Posted on April 27, 2012, in india and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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