Following the success of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight, it seems the literary world had more or less accepted her vampire series as the romance blockbuster of the 20-aughts. However, a limited-publication romance from an obscure Australian house has seen overnight success — which is largely due to its availability as an e-book.
E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was first published in modest circulation, with no expectation of runaway sales. However, following a chain of events which can gracelessly be described as a publicist’s wet dream, interest in her books skyrocketed and female readers across American began purchasing the series in droves. Considering the limited distribution of hard copy, this wave of high-volume purchase wouldn’t have been possible if not for ready availability by download.
On the week closing March 3, Fifty Shades of Grey had climbed to No. 3 on Amazon‘s (NASDAQ:AMZN) sales ranking and to an easy first on the New York Times Co.‘s (NYSE:NYT) bestseller list. As reported by the New York Times, the trilogy has already sold over 250,000 copies, a figure comprised almost entirely of e-book downloads. Fifty Shades of Grey has also gained attention for being far more explicit than the pathologically abstinent Twilight series. The fact that it’s available for download means otherwise self-conscious buyers can read it discretely from their Kindle.
Where Twilight cornered the market for young readers, Fifty Shades of Grey is proving popular with older women. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group snapped up the series for a seven-figure sum last week, and has released new e-book editions of the trilogy. Another 750,000 new paperbacks will enter circulation within the next few weeks as well — a likely fraction of expected digital purchases.