Fifty shades of marketing – or just one?

Book display in bookshop

Fifty Shades and its competitors

Velvet and I were driving recently and stopped at a motorway service station. The thing that struck us in the shop was that they had a complete floor-to-ceiling bookcase, more or less next to the entrance, stocked with Fifty Shades – and a bunch of its competitors. It seems that in the wake of the ‘Fifty Shades phenomenon’ every major publisher and imprint has been scrabbling to find their own bdsm erotica author to promote because they see bdsm as the ‘next big thing’ in the world of publishing.

But that’s not all. They’ve also decided that the cover of Fifty Shades is distinctive, and decided to go for a similar look and feel for their own covers. Almost without exception they’re black or grey backgrounds with an image that is either part-shadowed (as Fifty Shades is) or with one element that’s in a bold colour.

So what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, sluts and perverts, is the mainstreaming not only of bdsm erotica, but of specific design features intended to key you in to the nature of the book. And there are, suddenly, a lot of these books. Plus, booksellers, motorway service stations and others have got in on the act by deciding that they now need a specific bdsm erotica section in their shop. Even if they don’t explicitly call it that.

(The pic in this blog, incidentally, doesn’t come from the big display in the service station, but a local bookstore.)

One other interesting feature of at least some of these books is that while Fifty Shades was a sort-of romantic story of girl-gets-her-man (I’m relyng on reviews here, I’ve never read more than a few pages) the competitors, some of them anyway, feel the need to up the ante by promising their novels are in fact erotica and no romance is involved.

So how do we feel about this?

On the one hand, it’s opened up the kind of stuff we write to new audiences. On the other, those audiences are now being targeted by  the major, mainstream publishers, which makes the writing of erotica a little more competitive. So on the one hand, it would have been cool to be approached by publishers promising big bucks in their publicity drives. But we would say that, wouldn’t we? And, while we don’t want to criticise authors we don’t know – congratulations to them for having got lucky in the publishing stakes, they presumably know what the public wants right now – given what we’ve read and what we know first-hand about bdsm, we can nonetheless kind of afford to be a little sniffy about at least some of mainstream stuff we’ve read thus far.

That said, audiences probably move incrementally and a large proportion of the Fifty Shades audience may not be quite ready for us yet. We’ve never set out to be deliberately populist, because we write the kind of stuff we’d like to read ourselves.

We’ll keep going, and sooner or later either the new audiences will find the mainstream publishers aren’t selling what their tastes graduate to and they’ll find their way to our more humble (though more hardcore) publications, or else the mainstream publishers will feel the need to take on board writers of more hardcore erotica, and we’ll stand a chance of getting picked up at that point.

Anyone else have any thoughts on how the bdsm erotica thing is unfolding in the mainstream of publishing? Or on the cover designs and marketing, etc.?

And if someone does want something more hardcore, and wants it now: Naked Delirium may be your thing – for the playfully and pleasantly perverted, as it says in the book intro. Five novellas on sex in altered states, with bdsm and some other deviant sexual practices, and some paranormal and other altered states, from five different authors including me and Velvet, plus illustrations as a bonus. It’s on Smashwords as an ebook too, but they you don’t get the nice pictures (plus Smashwords has each of the novellas as individual publications as well: Fulani’s and Velvet’s and the other three). Oh, and the cover isn’t a Fifty Shades clone, Sweetmeats Press have their own established cover style…

-F

2 thoughts on “Fifty shades of marketing – or just one?

  1. I think the Twilight cover came first (though I’m not entirely sure).

    Another thing 50 Shades has is a great title.

    And, well, let’s hope for the rising tide that lifts all boats.

  2. I didn’t remember those, but having checked back I can see similarities. Actually, though it’s not clear in the photo, ‘Diary of a Submissive’ is very similar to the original Twilight book, with the substitution of a rose for an apple and the addition of handcuffs; and the 80 Shades Yellow and 80 Shades Blue also have elements that hark back to Twilight, with the outline of a cello picked out in a way that’s reminiscent of the ribbon on the cover of Eclipse. So you’re right, that style probably did start with the Twilight series – but it’s become something of an industry standard now, I suspect!

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