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Tops and Bottoms Discipline Elizabeth ColdwellReporting 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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