Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, April 26, 2012



On August 24 1941, the New York Times first published a weekly listing of the bestselling books in the nation.  It has appeared every Sunday since...which comes to a grand total of 3,692 times.  However, something happened this week that has never happened before.  The top three spots are all held by the same author: E.L. JAMES.  She's beat out some impressive novelists as well.  #4 on this week's bestsellers list is NICOLAS SPARKS of The Notebook fame.  MARY HIGGINS CLARK is at #5....she has been on the list 42 times before.  #6 is master of suspense JAMES PATTERSON whose books have sold 250 million copies worldwide. 

So how does a nobody like E.L. JAMES come out of nowhere and knock three heavyweights off the top?  Erotic novels, of course!  Often called "Mommy Porn," the FIFTY SHADES trilogy has middle aged women going bananas.  They're shelling out $29.95 for hardcover hardcore.  (Paperback retails for $15.95...but the cover gets gooey!)  Here's a quick synopsis: Our protagonist is Anastasia Steele.  She's a shy and demure college student...until she meets Christian Grey, an older, sophisticated and horribly wealthy tycoon.  They proceed down a bizarre road of dominatrix sex where the "awkward naif" consents to all sorts of violent acts, including being whipped with a leather riding crop.  Ouch!

Erika Leonard: Instant millionaire.
The sudden demand for women's erotica caught the publishing world off guard.  Market research indicated that "modern women don't purchase soft porn." The tiny, Australian independent press that originally published the novels ran out of copies last year.  This spiked a bidding war between corporations for the American rights to James' books.  “The word-of-mouth thoroughly outpaced the availability,” said PATRICIA BOSTELMAN, a Barnes & Noble executive.  The winner of the war was normally staunch publisher Knopf-Doubleday with an offer "in the seven figures."   It doesn't stop there.  The trilogy is currently being translated into dozens of other languages, and is currently being marketed heavily in Europe.  Offers are pouring in from Hollywood studios for the movie rights.  Universal has the edge.

All of which has women's rights organizations a bit confused.   After decades fighting for equal rights, it seems odd that the same women...who fought for things like the ERA...are now purchasing explicit books glorifying sexual violence against women. “What I found fascinating is that there are all these super-motivated, smart, educated women saying: This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read,” said activist MEG LEONARD. “I don’t get it. There’s a lot of violence, and this guy is abhorrent sometimes.”  Statistics back up her point.  The top three states for sales are New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania...places with lots of college graduates.  I guess there's just no telling what people are going to buy!

In summary, the Fifty Shades trilogy has managed to get lots of buzz and tons of sales.  E. L. James' sadomasochistic tales of love and lust have ignited fires of passion in many women's hearts worldwide.  But...let's be honest...this isn't exactly a new fad.  When I was a kid, Harlequin Romance paperback novels were a mainstay in every supermarket check out aisle...right next to the gum, mints and tabloids.  (Remember...with a bare chest drawing of Fabio on the cover?!)  The only difference today, is Moms don't have to be embarrassed about purchasing a trashy book and having everyone else in the market know you like erotic novels...nearly half of the sales of the FIFTY SHADES trilogy are on e-books!

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