E-porn and bookshops

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.

Have fun!




Carrying the Torch

Carrying the Torch is a blog in which writers ‘shadow’ the progress of the Olympic torch around the UK and each contributor gets a day to post about a particular topic linked to the locations where the torch is being carried.

My day was today, and the post is on WH Auden and in particular his notorious gay poem ‘The Platonic Blow’.

Have fun; hope you enjoy what you read and find other interesting posts there as well.


Louis Theroux on pornography

At the back end of last week I caught a documentary by Louis Theroux on BBC – ‘Twilight of the Porn Stars’. It’s available until sometime tomorrow on the BBC iPlayer for those of you who have access to it, but if not it will no doubt be repeated sometime, or segments of it will wind up on YouTube or whatever.

The essence of it is that he revisited a bunch of people in the porn business he first interviewed 15 years ago to see how they’re doing. His interview style – the wide-eyed, straight-laced naive innocent asking questions that are dorky, blundering and insensitive – doesn’t sit well with me, but a few interesting propositions emerged.

Firstly, the business is in bad shape (or had least has morphed in very significant ways). A lot of the market share has moved from films made by well-known production companies to webcam sessions, and to amateur porn that’s often widely available for free. In addition huge amounts of pirated material is freely available. I don’t hold any particular brief for porn production and distribution companies, and I have some nuanced arguments I could make about piracy – though as a ‘creative’ myself I do think it’s morally wrong. But the bottom line is that it’s as difficult now, if not more difficult, to generate an income from porn as it is from any other skill or talent.

Secondly, this may signal the end of certain types of job. In particular, the professional male performers (though not female ones) are likely to find themselves with less and less work – even though, realistically, very few men have the ability to have an erection more or less at will, hold it for long periods of time and come on demand. I’d venture to add that the ‘gonzo’ style of porn may well even mean far less demand for professional camera operators and post-production workers in the industry, especially since even some mobile phones (cellphones, if you’re in the US) can now produce semi-professional quality footage and editing is possible on many laptops.

Thirdly, insofar as there have been shifts in the content offered, some of those Theoroux interviewed felt that the market is now much more based around couples watching together, and some of the excesses of previous years such as de rigeur anal sex are no longer relevant – because, they said, in real life anal sex isn’t perceived as something that should and does happen at some point in almost any sexual encounter. The points were made by, among others, Rob Black (aka Rob Zicari), who comes across as not quite being on this planet but has been able to stay in the business for around two decades, so I assume he knows what he’s talking about.

And fourthly, there’s a short segment at the end where Theroux muses on the problems many porn performers seem to have with relationships, and he has an interesting proposition:

‘I’d found an industry that 15 years on was more demoralised and still taking the privacy of its young cohorts while paying them less. And yet the world of porn is also a refuge; somewhere people fleeing lives of chaos can blend in and feel valued. Though it can inflict wounds on those who work in it, it could also occasionally surprise with its tenderness.’

Hmmm. Two points there, and I suspect they both have some weight and that there are people for whom the latter is true – though I wouldn’t want to rely on it as a stereotype, and I can think of other occupational worlds in which both observations would hold up.

Any thoughts, anyone? Especially if it’s a business you know well?

Museum of Deviant Desires reviewed

Cover image, The Museum of Deviant Desires

Cover image, The Museum of Deviant Desires

Just found this on Amazon.com, posted today. Me, ‘meta-sexual’? There’s a thought…

“What I need” the narrator of Fulani’s “Burnout” tells us, “is some startling image that comes from nowhere and burns itself into my brain, my desires, causes instant addiction. What I need is a new mythos of erotica. . .”

I love the way this guy thinks!

Fulani is one of that rare, as yet officially unclassified species of erotic writer, the “meta-sexual;” a delightfully self-referential species noted for its uncanny ability to pleasure open-minded readers with intense multiple “brain-gasms.” And there are many to be enjoyed in this collection of short BDSM-centered fiction, informed by everything from Roland Barthes and Stanislaw Lem to Nu Fetish, industrial bondage; flash fiction and on-line piracy; underground music festivals, and those pulpy sexploitation magazines of the 50s and 60s with their lurid cover paintings and thick black “censor bars” redacting all the naughty bits in the grainy photos accompanying the articles.

The eleven very-short stories in this collection are sexy and cerebral; breezy, thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud funny and utterly addictive. Like a big heaping bowl of literary-erotic Lucky Charms; you can’t get enough. The multi-colored marshmallow shapes are irresistibly delicious, but the oat-cereal part is actually good for you–who knew? Fulani strikes just the right balance between light fluffy diversion and crunchy intellectual substance, letting his horny inner nerd come out to play the most scintilatingly kinky games; whimsically creating new words and worlds even as he establishes fascinating new paradigms for the next generation of erotic fiction.

There’s beauty here, however unexpected; the language can be lyrical even as it educes degradation and pain; the poetry of domination and submission set amid dystopian landscapes of industrial decay and urban blight. We wonder if this is what sex will be like in the future. But as the narrator of “Something Different” reminds us;

“Once you know it consciously, it’s impossible not to see how the whole of society, economy, psychology is a dense network of sexual signifiers.”

It’s true. Fulani’s stories draw their inspiration from an astonishingly diverse cosmos of commonplace artifacts; vacuum cleaners, toasters, plumbing supplies, burned out autos, melted plastic forms, all weirdly apt when turned to the author’s singularly amusing purpose.

Entertaining, sexy, hilarious, often self-effacing, “The Museum of Deviant Desires” is a trenchant critique of contemporary erotic literature with its finger firmly on the g-spot of popular culture; a tasty treat, not to be missed.

Published by 1001 Nights Press. It’s available on Amazon.com (you’ll see the review there as well), Amazon.co.uk, and if you go back to this blog post from April 27 it lists all the other places you can get it.

Edited to add: looking at clicks out of this blog, one or two people haven’t picked up the reminder that Erotica-Romance-Ebooks no longer operates. It was a website run by Xcite for the sale of third-party books along with their own. It  now redirects to the front page of the main Xcite.com website.

Foteviken slave trade?

This is more a request for information than anything.

Foteviken is a place in Sweden that was, historically, a viking settlement. It’s now a museum, an archaeological site, and a venue for viking re-enactment weekends. Information is available from site’s own website (this links to the English version), the illustrious publication Viking Today and it’s even listed in a Lonely Planet guide. Looks like a lot of fun. And this year’s Viking Week is at the end of this month, 25 June-1 July (we won’t be there though, since our plans are to be in Scotland around that time).

Check out the videos of the re-enactment weekends (links to videovi.net, but it’s easily searchable on Youtube as well) and you’ll see extensive coverage of that ancient viking tradition, the slave trade; mainly this involves women being tied up and sold off the auction block. It’s all pretty cool and done with a great deal of obvious good humour and enjoyment.

But the question is this: after the women have been auctioned off at prices of (usually) around twenty ‘crowns’, what happens to them? What demands are made of them? Are they just bought back by their partners, and what happens if not?  20 actual Swedish crowns, or krona, incidentally, would only be a little over £2 or a bit under $3, so on that basis slaves aren’t expensive! But who gets the money?

It’s a cool basis for a piece of fiction, but it would be interesting to hear from anyone who’s been there and knows, or who’s been sold at auction (or bought a slave at auction) at any other re-enactment meetings. Are there conditions imposed on the sale, how much fun was had and of what kind(s)? We know how the ‘slave auction’ deal works at fetish events, where it’s done from time to time, mostly to raise money for a good cause. But are re-enactment weekends a little more restrictive about the rights of the purchasers?

On not playing nicely

OK, so I was going to do a humorous post or a story and both of those might happen sometime soon. But I got distracted, because I came across this BBC report on sexual harassment in the online gaming world.

I don’t do online gaming, and I am aware of chatrooms and places in Second Life and such where BDSM scenarios are played out and women of a submissive bent go there specifically to experience that. What I don’t get is why, in an online game that involves a team of people playing out a military combat scenario against another team, random male players will suddenly realise there’s a woman on their team and start demanding pics of their tits, offering to hook up for anal sex, disparaging female players by telling them they’re only fit to make sandwiches or the only good part of their body is their vagina, or any of the other quite surreal stuff that seems to go on.

Nor is this kind of behaviour limited to hormone driven male teenagers. The BBC report points out the average gamer (presumably we’re talking online games here) is aged 37, and 42% are women; also ‘Women aged 18+ represent a greater portion of game-playing population (37%) than boys aged 17 or younger (13%)’.

So this kind of stuff is happening even though women constitute a little under half of all gamers and the men involved are mostly (at least in a chronological sense) mature adults.

Partly, I don’t get it because if I were playing an online game, I’d be there to play the game; if it’s a shoot-em-up type scenario I’d be looking for enemies to shoot rather than hanging around offering gratuitous insults to players on my team. Especially if insulting them meant they’d lose any motivation to watch my back and stop me getting shot.

And partly, I don’t get it because I don’t see why an online environment is intrinsically different to everyday life. Do people really not get it that pretty much anything that happens online is recorded, archived, available as evidence, and rather less secure than a postcard sent through the regular mail? I’d imagine most of the guys offering this kind of harassment wouldn’t walk into a supermarket, see there’s a woman on the till and demand to see her vagina. They wouldn’t see a woman walk into a bar and instantly ask her for anal sex. They wouldn’t cruise into their workplace and tell a female co-worker to fix them a sandwich, or get out her tits. Well, maybe some of them do? But if they did, I imagine they’d end up arrested, fired or whatever on a fairly regular basis.

OK, so the internet isn’t policed the same way as real life; people can and do have flame wars and engage in harassment and bullying. And some of them let rip with their misogyny. But I’d imagine the numbers are against them, with forty-plus percent of female players and a proportion of men who pitch in against misogynistic behaviour online. I’d imagine they have persistent negative experiences when they try this kind of tactic, and others work out who they are and actively shun them, like they do in many chatrooms.

However, I’m probably making the mistake of thinking that the kind of people who engage in this behaviour learn from their experiences, and/or that they’re acting in any rational manner. After all, it’s still common in places like Fetlife for women to get ‘chatup lines’ that are essentially demands for naked pics or, alternatively, receive unsolicited penis pics – though it’s easier to ignore or block such people since it’s not a real-time interactive environment.

A defence of sexually aggressive language has been offered in terms of the combat-driven nature of many games and the casual use of terms like ‘bitch’ to describe opponents, and ‘rape’ to mean defeating another character. And this is stuff you can hear on the street: I’ve heard young men talking about someone being ‘raped’ when what they meant was that they’d been (for example) short-changed in a shop. But while such phrases are, like it or not, used indiscriminately now, if you listen to the audio captures of the level of abuse and the specific things said to female players, it’s pretty clear that defence doesn’t stack up. How often does anyone, talking to a stranger, male or female, say something like Show me your titties or your family dies?

If you want to know more – including audio recordings of some of the harassment that prove it’s as ridiculous, idiotic and yet offensive as the BBC report indicates – have a look at the sites of these two female gamers who blog about their experiences:  Jenny Haniver’s Not in the Kitchen Anymore, and Fat Ugly or Slutty.

Enough said. Humorous and/or erotic posts will resume shortly…