The phenomenal financial success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy requires one to pause and take note that the business of marketing books has been fundamentally altered. Authors that self market their books electronically as well as small publishing houses that rely on e-sales began to proliferate in the past few years. No series, however, has used web-based electric publishing to such success as the Fifty Shades of Grey series. The author, E.L. James, created the characters and story line as free content on fan based web sites. Sex has always sold books but the ability to create a large fan base with free online content and then deliver the books digitally so that women could read them anonymously has proven to be a marketing coup. Even the print books were designed with subdued covers that only hint at the content. Fifty Shades of Grey is a distinct departure from the typical romance cover that features bodice ripping beauties in the arms of a Fabio-like character.
Publishers of romance novels have come to understand that some women have been reluctant to embrace the genre because of the stigma attached. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy started as an e-based book that could be purchased and read anonymously on commuter trains, cafes, and at home without anyone knowing. The ability to enjoy the fiction anonymously has enabled the author to capture a much larger audience.
The series has sold 31 million copies worldwide since March of this year. Book rights have been sold in 37 countries, and it has set the record as the fastest selling paperback of all time, surpassing the Harry Potter series. In response, publishers are re-releasing romance novels with new subdued covers, hoping to enjoy the same success.
Critics have panned the quality of the writing and it has been parodied on such popular shows as SNL, but the sales continue and the buzz surrounding the books has made the publishing industry take notice. We are at a tipping point in how books are sold and marketed; not unlike what the music industry experienced with the rise of the internet and Itunes. Marketing and publishing books electronically is dramatically cheaper than print sales. Expect to see a lot more offerings electronically that will come from the major publishing houses, small independent firms and the authors directly. They will be cheaper in price, cheaper in quality (because of the relative ease to publish and sell) and they will explore even more exotic and taboo themes.
– Camille Montano