Oct 13 2013 10:30am

The Fifty Fenomenon: How Has Fifty Shades Changed the Reading World?

In a recent post, Dear Author mentioned the article “Whatever You Do, 'Don't Call It “Mommy Porn”': Fifty Shades of Grey, Fan Culture, and the Limits of Intellectual Property Rights” by Meredith Guthrie, University of Pittsburgh, in which Jane from Dear Author, as well as Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Jenny Trout, were interviewed about the post-Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon. Jane says that she believes people who read and love Fifty Shades will go on to read more romance:

“I definitely view 50 Shades as a gateway drug to more romance fiction. It’s a matter of those readers finding other romance stories...[Y]ou are beginning to see readers who were brought into the genre starting to mine the extensive backlists of some popular traditionally published authors.”

But there is some disagreement, according to the article. Paraphrasing Sarah Wendell, the piece suggests that instead of getting more people interested in reading deeper in the romance genre, Fifty Shades may have simply made them want more of the same, citing:

the sheer number of romance book covers that look eerily similar to the cover of Fifty Shades, the increasing use of deep first-person narratives and the popularity of a new genre, called “New Adult,” that features young 20-something female protagonists who are often unsure of themselves and enter into intense sexual and emotional relationships.

Jenny Trout sees this trend going even further, saying that initially optimism was high, but now “[W]hat seems to be happening is this really horrible effect of even more anti-feminist, abusive and grossly misinformed kink fanfic flooding the market.”

If asked in which way Fifty Shades affected the reading world, can we just answer with ”All of them"? Yes, there are more books with grossly dysfunctional relationship dynamics, horrible writing, and insecure young women. But there are also some great books seeing the light of day that would not have found a home otherwise, as well as people who were not readers before becoming readers, even if romance readers would disparage what they are choosing to read (an irony that should not escape any of us).

What have been the best and worst things about the Fifty Fenomenon?

E.L. James's Fifty Shades Trilogy: ‹ previous | index | next ›
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MJ Flournoy
1. MJ Flournoy
This novel has opened the door for more readership to find the value of sexy hot reads. I've long said, reading will generalize, it doesn't matter what you read as long as you read, the increase in skill will generalize to all forms of reading. If 50 Shades encouraged people to read who were hesitant to do so in the past, then their skill will be enhanced because of it. Can you tell I'm a teacher? Well, I'm also a writer and my stories are hot, sexy reads. I appreciate the opening in the market that E. L. James' 50 Shades has made. So thank you EL for making it easier for readers to accept erotica/sexy/hot reads!
Jamie Brenner
2. jamieloganbrenner
Great post -- both the upside and downside are undeniable. As an erotica author who wrote my first series before Fifty Shades, I like the changes that have happened over the past year. I used to have a hard time explaining my books to people outside of the romance world. Now I just say, "You know -- it's like a Fifty Shades type thing." And they're like, ok -- lots of sex. Got it.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I do hope that this book has opend the world of reading to many non-readers, but I fear that this too shall pass and they will go back to their non-reading ways.

As for me, if I have to avoid another controlling gazillioner/naive young twit book I'll go bonkers. Now I have to work extra hard to get my sexy reads with no 50 influence in sight.
MJ Flournoy
4. Melissa Bartolone
Insightful piece Megan. What I enjoyed about the 50 Shades craze was the confidence and freedom it sparked in women of all demographics to read whatever they please. Gone was the fear that they would be judged by the quality or intellectual value of their latest read. I saw young girls to grandmothers reading 50 Shades in the most random places with their heads held high and their jaws slack with no fear of criticism. Say what you will, but those books were lightening in a bottle; they touched a nerve and moved women to places they'd not been before (at least not in the pedicurist's chair). I think readers light up when they see a new book cover claiming "if you liked 50 Shades..." because they want that magic back...and so do their husbands/boyfriends;-)
MJ Flournoy
5. Torifl
I agree with what many are saying in tht 50 Shades introduced erotic romance to the average reader. EL James took an average couple, added some characteristics to make then appealing, then turned to the world and said, "It's okay to enjoy kinky romance because everyone is doing it." She managed to speed up what erotic writers have been trying to do for years-mainstream it.

My only qualm is it spinned a whole slew of copycats. We watched as broody millionaires and the inspid virginal heroines they stalked and harassed became the new norm for romance.
Nicole Leapheart
7. BoxyFrown
I'm really glad that there was a mainstream crossover for erotica with 50 Shades. There are so many great writers who are getting more attention now, or who feel more confident in their writing now, because of this book and how EL James made such intelligent choices in promotion and self publishing.

However, the other side of the coin is (and I hate to sound like a hipster here) but I was reading erotica before 50 Shades was cool. I also know that, despite the fact that Christian Grey broke a lot of erotica cherries, 50 Shades as a trilogy was ok-good, but not great. The market is flooded with books with the tortured billionaire trope now, but it was a trope that existed before Christian Grey. The uninformed unfortunately think every billionaire book is a FSOG knockoff, which is annoying. There are a lot of knock offs, but EL James didn't invent the tortured billionare. (And whether she gets the credit for inventing these characters is a WHOLE other conversation.)
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