Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: The Book That Shocked Us All



Like it or not, "Fifty Shades of Grey" has turned out to be the biggest surprise of the year 2012. I know feelings run deeply with this book. I don't think I've ever met anyone who just said, "Meh." They've either loved FSoG or hated it. Or, as it's been suggested in more than one place, they didn't actually finish it. In my own small circle, most of the people I know didn't get through the first half. They only bought it because they'd heard so much about it. And the reactions were mixed depending on who you spoke to. Some thought it was too erotic. Others didn't think it was erotic enough. Most didn't think it was well-written at all.  

I've posted more about that book than I planned to post, and I'm not getting into that anymore. (I liked it.) In this post I'm linking to another article that talks about how FSoG actually did take publishing by surprise...and how publishing is still evolving as a result of books like FSoG.

EL James' erotic trilogy was easily the year's biggest hit, selling more than 35 million copies in the U.S. alone and topping best-seller lists for months. Rival publishers hurried to sign up similar books, and debates started over who should star in the planned film version. Through James' books and how she wrote them, the general public was educated in the worlds of romance/erotica, start-up publishing and "fan fiction."


I would be remiss not to mention that I know very little about fanfic...or "fandom." I remember hearing about it on the old Miss Snark blog about five or six years ago and didn't bother to really check it out in depth. Evidently, I underestimated fanfic. There's obviously a huge readership and it's not just with romance. I've heard in more than a few places there are fanfic LGBT books being written about "Queer as Folk," and they have a lot of followers. But then again, most of the people who bought FSoG had no idea they were actually buying a book that was fanfic based on "Twilight." It would have been nice if the publisher had mentioned this on the cover somewhere, or in the blurb. But that didn't happen, and I'm still meeting people who are shocked to find out about this.

This is also a little frustrating for me: I would have loved to have seen James' book hit it big with a smaller e-publisher instead of one of the big six. While smaller e-publishers have been pioneering the way for erotic romance books like FSoG the big six have had their thumbs up their proverbial butts, still taking their summer Fridays off and still shutting down for the month of August. I always figured it would be a matter of time before the big six started to benefit from the hard work of others, and in this case it was the small e-presses that have been paving the way for e-books. In fact, I don't think I would be wrong in saying that FSoG would NOT have been published if James had queried an agent and gone through the old publishing channels. More than a few blogging agents have mentioned their disdain for the book, including a very good friend of mine. It would have wound up in the slush pile.

In a year when print was labeled as endangered and established publishers referred to as "legacy" companies, defined and beholden to the past, the allure remained for buying and reading bound books.


That's a little hooded if you ask me. Although I was one of those who loved FSoG, I'm not sure I agree with this statement as a generalization. Yes, people did run out and buy FSoG in print. But does that mean e-books are going to vanish and print books will be resurrected and reborn again because of FSoG? I doubt that. A lot of the "buzz" and "hype" created by FSoG will die down and we'll have to wait for the next new trend. We're also still at the crossroads of one generation fighting the other with regard to print books and e-books. The article I'm linking to alone is proof because the person who wrote it doesn't even get the terminology correct in most cases when she mentions e-books.  

And if publishers suffer from their reputation - often earned - of being slow to adapt to technology, they benefit from a reputation - often earned - for being nice to their writers.

"There certainly is the comfort factor, and part of that comfort factor is the culture of old publishing, which is very collegial and warm and friendly," says Richard Curtis, a literary agent who represents several writers publishing with Amazon. "Authors contemplating Amazon are concerned about a loss of that warmth."


This is where the article gets interesting. The person who wrote it gradually shifts from talking about FSoG and gets into more details about Amazon, Legacy Publishers, and, frankly, a lot of nonsense. She's making legacy publishers sound like such dear sweet souls, when in fact I have read and linked to articles in the past about authors who've left legacy publishing just based on how unfairly they've been treated by their publishers with regard to e-book sales. So much for that sense of warmth. This is why a lot of established authors have gone to Amazon. And who could forget the DOJ issues this year with legacy publishing?

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers for alleged price fixing of electronic books, a lawsuit originating from Apple's 2010 launch of the iPad and iBookstore, which publishers hoped would weaken Amazon's ability to discount works so deeply that no other seller could compete.

It's been an interesting year, to say the least, just with regard to this entire DOJ mess. Being that most of these publishers have reached a settlement with the DOJ, I'm not sure the word alleged is needed (I always thought of settlement as an admission of guilt), but I'll use it anyway. These big publishers allegedly colluded to keep e-book prices at 9.99, hoping to set a standard for e-book prices within the industry, slow down the rise of e-book sales, hold Amazon back, make consumers pay more for books that cost practically nothing to publish in digital format, and to keep print books flowing for as long as they can. At least that's been my take...allegedly. You have to remember that a lot of what's been happening in publishing has terrified a lot of the gatekeepers and they don't know where to turn. I'm sure that's one reason why FSoG found and agent and a big publisher. If you can't beat them, join them.

It's going to be interesting to see what's next, and I have a feeling 2013 will be filled with more changes. In June 2013 Macmillan is slated to go to trial because they refused to settle with the DOJ. I also have a feeling that the e-book/print book argument will actually slow down for a while. It stands to reason. I think the people who have switched to e-books like me will never go back to reading print books again. I think younger people being introduced to books, will all go digital. I find people are still reading my books in .lit, which is an old fashioned way of reading e-books on microsoft. But there are still a lot of people around who would never think of reading anything other than a print book, and they aren't going away anytime soon. So this means there's going to be a balance, because I can't imagine any publisher going completely digital in the next five years at least and risking losing all those who read print books. As long as there is a demand, I think the supply will keep coming.

Or I could be completely wrong here. I absolutely hate the fact that video stores have all but disappeared. I miss them and I still haven't embraced On Demand, streaming, or Netflix. But I didn't have a choice, and now I'm renting movies On Demand. There are no video stores near me anymore. They simply couldn't survive. It's not easy to cover the cost of a physical store and all that it includes. Be interesting to see if that's what eventually happens with books.





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