After spending many years in the retail book industry, I came to appreciate the romance reader. They were loyal customers who also happened to read and buy huge amount of books. The romance reader was also one of the earliest adopters of the ereaders. We hope you find the article interesting.
by Katherine Rosman ~ The Wall Street Book Review
If that woman next to you on the train seems unusually engrossed in her e-reader, there may be a good reason.
Electronic readers, and the reading privacy they provide, are fueling a boom in sales of sexy romance novels, or “romantica,” as the genre is called in the book industry.
As with romance novels, romantica features an old-fashioned love story and pop-culture references like those found in “chick lit.” Plus, there is sex—a lot of it. Yet unlike traditional erotica, romantica always includes what’s known as “HEA”—”happily ever after.”
Kindles, iPads and Nooks “are the ultimate brown paper wrapper,” says Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Cleis Press, of Berkeley, Calif., a publisher of erotica since 1980.
Mainstream publishers are launching digital-only erotic labels to feed demand. At the end of the month, HarperCollins UK will launch Mischief Books, with the tag line “private pleasures with a hand-held device.”
Tori Benson, a 41-year-old married mother in Eustis, Fla., reads 10 to 15 books a week, about half of them erotic. She began reading romance novels as a young girl and graduated to erotica a few years ago, when she got her first Kindle. She now has two, one of which her 10-year-old daughter calls “Mommy’s naughty reader.”
Ms. Benson says the digital format helped her get over her embarrassment. She reviews romance books for Smexybooks.com and erotica for the website Heroes and Heartbreakers. Even so, she says she wouldn’t read these books in print if she were in view of anyone. “Some of the covers are very explicit,” she says.
Erotica on the Mischief Books site is tagged with icons. Handcuffs denote “kinky”; an upraised palm means “discipline.” The HarperCollins imprint says it plans to publish at least 60 e-titles a year. “It used to be a long walk to the counter with an erotica selection, but now that’s a thing of the past,” says Adam Nevill, Mischief Books’ editorial director. (HarperCollins, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp. )
The genre even has its first best-seller, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E L James, a British mother and former TV producer. It’s a novel about the steamy love affair between a college student and a billionaire businessman, littered with contemporary references to Apple computers, personal trainers and songs from bands like Snow Patrol and Kings of Leon.
“Fifty Shades” was released last May through the Writer’s Coffee Shop, an Australian independent e-publisher, and by fall it had become a grassroots sensation in the U.S., as affluent young mothers devoured the racy tale and recommended it to friends. Last week, Vintage Books signed a seven-figure deal with the Australian publisher for rights to the book and the next two in the series, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed.” Vintage plans initially to print a total 750,000 paperback copies of the books.
The ease of downloading to an e-reader is a huge factor in erotica’s growth. The minute a reader hears about a book from a friend, she can buy her own copy.
And in a series, as soon as she finishes the first book she can download the next. Some readers load all the novels about a favorite heroine onto their e-readers at once.
“This is an online market,” says Rachel Kramer Bussel, a writer of erotica and editor of the anthology “Best Bondage Erotica 2012,” from Cleis Press.
Fans of romantica say they like the heroines—educated, professionally successful, morally centered characters who are swept up by unexpected, intense sexual desire. Readers also are drawn to the love stories.
“Flat-Out Sexy,” published by Penguin Group’s Berkeley Trade unit, is set in a Nascar-like racing circuit. It depicts the torrid attraction between a rookie driver, Elec, and Tamara, the widow of a beloved driver who died in a crash.
“Tempted,” published by Harlequin’s Spice label, concerns happily married Anne, who is drawn into a relationship with her husband and his best friend, Alex. The sequel, “Naked,” is an account of the affair from Alex’s point of view.
Erotica used to be difficult to find. Chains and independent bookstores might have carried a few titles, but they were hidden away, and inventory was scarce.
Self-publishing made it easier for first-time authors to get distribution online. As women began to write erotica and post it online, demand grew.
Since Cleis Press started selling digital books in 2008, its sales have grown 30%, and the publisher attributes 40% of its dollar volume to e-books. It is expanding its erotica list this year from 48 books to 60. Among its offerings: “Fast Girls” and “Frat Boys.”
The romance genre—encompassing a range of fiction types, from traditional romance to Christian romance, Amish romance and erotica—makes up 17% of sales of adult fiction, says Brent Lewis, Harlequin’s executive vice president for digital.
Romance fans were among the earliest adopters of e-reading. Nearly 40% of all new romance books purchased are in digital form, says Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research. In erotica, the digital portion is that high or higher, he says. It is about 20% for other adult trade genres—except for mysteries, which have recently caught up with romance
Jill Lascher, a 42-year-old Los Angeles mother of three, bought a Kindle so she could read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” whose print availability is limited.
In December, she was on a family vacation in Florida with her sister, Nicole Beit, a 39-year-old Manhattan mother of three, who barely looked up from her Kindle.
“I said, ‘You’re missing this, you’re not present,’ ” Ms. Lascher says.
“I said, ‘If you were reading this, you would understand,’ ” Ms. Beit says.
Ms. Lascher’s Kindle arrived four days later, and for the rest of the vacation and several weeks afterward, the sisters read all the books in the “Shades” trilogy and talked about them often.
“I was very happy having no one know what I was reading,” Ms. Lascher says. “You blush when you read it.”