Fifty Shades 'to spark new sub-genre’

Publishers are moving quickly to capitalise on the spectacular success of Century’s erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey, with W H Smith books business unit director Rachel Russell predicting that “a new sub-genre can be created and sustained” if publishing houses seize the opportunity. The E L James trilogy-opener topped The Official UK Top 50 this week, selling over 60,000 copies, and has also sold 32,000 e-books for Random House in the past week. 

Century publisher Selina Walker said: “The risk we took as publishers was that we knew it would be a very strong e-book; but what has changed in the last week is the phenomenal sales in physical, too.” Print sales are now driving digital sales, bucking previous e-book phenomena sales patterns, Walker added. Century has now brought out the next two print books in the trilogy (published yesterday, 26th April). 

Meanwhile, hastening to take advantage of the Fifty Shades success, Ebury is rushing out The Ninety Days of Genevieve by Lucinda Carrington (27th May) from the Black Lace erotica imprint that it mothballed in 2009, this time on the Virgin list. Black Lace itself is to be revived in September as a print and digital imprint. 

Little, Brown is e-publishing its 2009 erotic stories collection In Bed With “as soon as possible”. Sphere fiction associate publisher Catherine Burke said she had already been sent similar manuscripts to Fifty Shades, and claimed that “the jackets [for the Fifty Shades trilogy] are already iconic”. Orion fiction division head Susan Lamb said: “What’s really good is that maybe the paperback is not dead after all.”

W H Smith books business unit director Rachel Russell said the success of Fifty Shades “demonstrates how publisher and retailer confidence, and determination to really push a product to the consumer on the back of proven digital success through a strong promotion and PR campaign can really deliver.” Russell added: “If other publishers have the confidence to ride on the back of this, then I am sure a new sub-genre can be created and sustained.” However, Waterstones spokesman Jon Howells said Fifty Shades was in the tradition of a break-out erotica hit, and played down the possibility of a wider trend building. 

The E L James trilogy, which had already sold more than 250,000 copies in print and e-book when it was acquired by Random House in mid-March, is performing significantly better in print than other e-book bestsellers. Amanda Hocking’s hugely successful e-book Trylle trilogy has sold 40,208 physical copies since its publication by Macmillan. It is also bucking the trend of the overall erotica print maket, which last year was worth a mere £0.7m according to Nielsen BookScan, down 64% on its £1.9m value in 2010.

Editor's blog: Fifty Shades of Sales