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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘e Books’ Category

A spanking success

My hairdresser and I were chatting last week about pornographic literature. This is not a subject that often comes up when I’m having my hair cut. Nor is it a genre that I generally write about in the lofty pages of the Sunday Times. But my hairdresser – an extremely well-read person – had bought a Kindle e-book of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that was so famous and so dire she felt compelled to warn me off it. She wasn’t the only one. One of my book club friends emailed the following day to say (rather gleefully) she had just read “the worst book ever written”.

That it may be, but you can’t go a day without having a conversation or reading something online about this book. Just in case you’ve been incarcerated by Somali pirates these last few months, here’s the brief fill-in: The steamy e-book, by EL James, became a run-away success, fuelled by word-of-mouth and social media. It shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list – before it was even in print! – winning its author a 7-figure deal and a 750 000 initial print run.

It’s got everything the run-of-the mill romance novel has – wealthy, older, dashing, alpha male; timid virgin; fist person female point of view; even the names, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, which could come from Mills & Boon or The Bold and the Beautiful – plus one killer app: bondage.

Dubbed (annoyingly) “mommy porn”, it was downloaded to millions of e-readers, where it could be innocuously and anonymously consumed. (I cherish an image of steamed-up windows in the school car parks, as moms haul out their iPads and get a dose of e-erotica while they wait for their kids to finish hockey.)

Nothing like some light spanking to arouse the news media. Newsweek made the book its cover story, alongside a picture of a blindfolded woman and the provocative cover line: “The Fantasy Life of Working Women – Why Surrender is a Feminist Dream”. Katie Roiphe’s controversial essay inside (worth a read, actually, she writes a whole lot better than James, that’s for sure) offers a number of observations, most controversially that all this equality is getting to us women: “We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semipornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.”) Oh sigh…

Back to the book. If, like me, you are reluctant to trudge through 500 pages of badly written romance just to keep up with popular culture and to check out the dirty bits, fear not. helpfully offers a speed-readable selection of the “14 naughtiest bits” from the book. There are also plenty of commentators and bloggers happy to share examples of the clunky prose (readers are treated to the heroine’s annoying inner thoughts: when moved to the peak of pleasure, she is inclined to express her delight by saying things like “Holy Moses!”).

Update: Vintage announced it had sold 10 million copies of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in trade paperback, eBook and audio book in six weeks. What can I say, except perhaps, Holy Moses!

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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Ebook trends and Kindle Singles

When I want to feel really ancient and decrepit I tell my children that when I was born, there was no such thing as TV in South Africa. Imagine that. No. Television. And then, almost as extraordinary, there was TV but it came in – get this – black and white and grey. For years, we had a portable black and white television no bigger than a microwave oven. Which we didn’t know, because we’d never seen a microwave oven. They can barely contemplate such a notion. It’s like being told that when I was little there were no dogs. Or no apples. Or no Indian Ocean. “What did you do?” they ask breathlessly. “What happened at night?”

In decades to come, I suspect I will be entertaining my grandchildren with similar tales from my youth, back when dinosaurs walked the earth. “I remember when all books were made of paper,” I’ll tell the wide-eyed little darlings, their sweet faces bathed in the glow of their handheld electronic devices. “Take out those earphones, I’m talking to you…”

My point, in case you were beginning to wonder, is that we are living through an extraordinary time in the world of books and publishing. Here are a few examples from the world of eBooks:

While the book publishers battle with issues of rights across the world and across formats, new publishers are emerging with new solutions. Best-seller Seth Godin’s Domino Project is a case in point. He describes it as “format agnostic”, producing versions for Kindle, audio book, paperback … and anything else that shows up. You can buy a 5-pack deal on Kindle for your book club, or a special $65 collectible print edition. They claim they can bring a book to market in six weeks (a process that traditionally takes a year).

This month, General Electric is sponsoring a free Kindle edition of an offering from Domino Project, a book called Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way by  Steven Pressfield. The eBook, which retails for $7.99, will be free for a limited period, courtesy of GE. Books funded by sponsorship from giant corporations? Some may shiver in revulsion, but if readers get free books, authors get a chunk of money and sponsors get the gratitude of readers and the dissemination of ideas they believe in, what’s not to like?

Also new in the eBooks world is the announcement that will be selling Kindle Singles. A new section of its Kindle Store that will offer non-fiction and journalism pieces of between 10,000 and 30,000-words (somewhere between the length of long-form journalism and that of a novella). They will be priced accordingly, between $1 and $5 dollars. I’ve often felt rather irritated at paying a couple of hundred bucks for a “one idea” non-fiction book that seemed to have been padded out to short-book length when long-article length would have been plenty. Singles are a good solution. “Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format,” said Amazon’s VP of Kindle Content Russ Grandinetti, in a statement. “With Kindle Singles, we’re reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we’re excited to see what they create.”

OK, it’s hardly Woodstock, but you can tell your kids and grandkids that you were here for the great digital revolution: “Man…” you’ll say, “I wish you coulda been there….”

Kate Sidley is the books columnist for the Sunday Times

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