Picture this, times 20 million, in the minds of women worldwide. Oh, the times they are a-changing. Image source: Hogtied.com.
To a certain extent, writing about anything other than 50 Shades of Gray feels almost futile, it's that big a phenomenon. New sales figures show the book has sold 20 million copies worldwide.
I think by now the explanation for its success is in part its success: it now has "plausible deniability" going for it. The fact that everyone else is reading it makes it OK to read. You can enjoy the dirty, dirty scenes in the book knowing that you are not an extraordinary freak, or even out of the ordinary, while doing so. Like Slave Leia, it's entered the popular culture. It's "OK" to enjoy it.
But here's the thing. It's being described as a new "tentpole" book by traditional publishers. Such publishers have pretty much neglected their midlist books ... once the staple of the publishing industry ... in hopes that sales of one or two bestsellers will compensate for the lack of the lower-profit books.
Here's the thing, though. 50 Shades of Gray owes NONE of its success to the big publishers. It was a runaway bestseller as an e-book, long before Vintage Books moved in and made E.L. James a multimillion dollar offer she would not refuse. All the Vintage Books people did was add traditional sales to the success of 50 Shades of Gray as an e-book.
So, there is no guarantee that publishers can generate such sales in the future. They did not create the book's success in the first place. All they can do is jump on the bandwagon and hope that fan writers or erotic romance writers sends a new tentpole their way. It's no way to run an industry. In fact, it's down right stupid. Then again, we've seen bankers and politicians behave like idiots for years. Why shouldn't traditional publishers do the same? Personally, I hope the lot of them go out of business, if they can't do better than they have done.