Just come across an interesting, though I think slightly confused, piece on the BBC website about mommy porn and bookstores (the link opens in a new window).
There are three sort-of points being made in the piece, but how they hang together is a matter of debate. Firstly, and as exemplified by the 50 Shades of Grey scenario, ebooks have become a much bigger phenomenon, much faster, than the publishing industry expected – they probably account for 40-50% of books sold now. Secondly, as also exemplified by 50 Shades, only a small proportion of sales now are through high street bookshops, whether retail chains or independents. And thirdly, many of the best sellers are now ebooks in a genre that’s come to be labelled ‘mommy porn’ – erotica aimed at women who are old enough to have school-age children. It’s spicy enough to keep their interest, occasionally a little transgressive in that it delves into areas such as bdsm, but not in a full-on sledgehammer way.
The conclusion (or maybe we should call them speculations?) are these. There’s more reading going on, perhaps encouraged by the anonymous grey cover of the Kindle that doesn’t announce to other people what you’re reading. A large proportion of the market is female, probably reasonably educated, and into erotica – though you don’t need to explore very far into Goodreads to work that out. In fact, they’re probably buying stuff online that they wouldn’t necessarily buy in print from an actual bookshop. And so, thirdly, bookshops themselves aren’t doing too well and have lost their function. And we’re going to see more bookstores closing, and the publishing industry which has already changed massively in response to ebooks will change harder and faster in the future.
My thoughts in response are scattered.
Take the bookshop issue first. The loss of function issue is probably right. But there are emerging niche markets that can likely support independent stores. About three years ago a friend of mine closed her bookstore down. She’d conceived it as a store built around several interlocking themes: radical politics, sexuality (including gay literature) and literature by emerging writers. But it wasn’t just a bookshop. It had a radical politics reading group, offered meeting space for activist groups, participated in a literary festival or two, hosted poetry readings and a Black history group and a gay group and a Bangladeshi women’s writing group, and offered creative writing sessions. It was even planning bdsm workshops. Plus there was free coffee for pretty much anyone who walked through the door. And apart from that, it ran basic literacy and computing classes in a back room and some of the people who went to those sessions ended up working in the store. I’d say it was an exciting model that was probably five years ahead of its time, because bookshops are going to have to build some kind of social function in order to survive.
Even so, they probably won’t capture a mommy porn market – unless it’s an erotica reading group!
So what do you think?
Meanwhile and in other news – I now have a Goodreads profile. And apart from that, I’ve just thrown up a short erotic story on my other blog that’s got an urban, grungy, underclass/underworld feel to it and I’d be interested to see how people feel it works. It was, if anyone’s interested, prompted by a particular street scene of the ‘evidence’ of sex in a public place.