CNN ran an article Friday placing the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey within an erotic fanfic context (the book grew out of what was originally a Twilight fanfic story). The article mentions the predominance of gay and lesbian fanfic, written, according to Dr. Francesca Coppa of Muhlenberg College, because in fanfic’s early ’60s-’70s heyday, there was very little gay and lesbian fiction available, so fans stepped in to fill the gap. It also mentions that sexual content has traditionally been shunned by the publishing world, which leaves us with the question of whether 50 Shades will open mainstream publishing to erotica.
I suppose another question worth asking is whether erotica authors need mainstream publishing anymore; erotica seems to be doing just fine digitally. Even 50 Shades started out as a print and digital publication from a small publisher — with its biggest sales in that safely discreet digital format. Of course, there’s no doubt that its being picked up by a mainstream publisher has contributed greatly to the marketing buzz around it, and what author doesn’t want that?
Still … 50 Shades is about a heterosexual couple. Would the story, could the story, have possibly become so popular, and get picked up by a mainstream publisher, if it had been about a same-sex couple? For example, there’s an incredible amount of gay and m/m fiction, whether fan- or nonderivative, out there in digital format. Why is so little of it available in print? And, of the few works that are available in print, why are they so difficult to find in any mainstream bookstore? These are rhetorical questions, of course; the answers are easy enough to surmise. But another question I find particularly interesting is why have boys’ love manga been one of the notable exceptions to the rule? True, it’s been getting harder to find BL since Borders collapsed, but for years they were one form of m/m erotica that could actually be bought in a bookstore … and they were illustrated. Was it their foreignness? Were they flying under the radar? I can make guesses, but it’d be fun to interview some of the publishers, marketers, and bookstore owners to find out their thoughts on the matter.
In the meantime, I’m not going to hold my breath that 50 Shades will be opening up the mainstream market to an onslaught of erotica … at least not the m/m erotic romances that are the current focus of my interest as a reader and scholar.
Goldberg, Stephanie. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Shines Light on Erotic Fanfiction. CNN (April 6, 2012). Accessed 4/7/12 http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/05/showbiz/movies/fifty-shades-of-grey-fan-fiction/index.html.