The erotic fiction industry owes a lot to e-readers.
For years, most mainstream publishers assumed that women, in particular, were into romance novels but didn't want to read stories about explicit sex, according to The Guardian's Calum Marsh. There was certainly no market for niche interests like gay romance in space or threesomes with pirates - or so they thought.
Meanwhile, many readers were craving those very things, but were too embarrassed to walk into their local bookstore and buy them in print. Never mind pulling out a book with sexy cover art and a lurid title on the train or in the break room at work! Who had that kind of nerve?
Marsh says that e-readers gave the erotic fiction market a huge boost, because it gave readers some privacy about their reading habits. Now they could download erotica on their devices, without any bemused smirks from bookstore clerks, and they could read it with quiet dignity on the train without trying to hide the cover. For many readers, it was a liberating moment; for many authors and publishers, it was a profitable one. Most erotica is now sold in ebook format, and business is booming.
It's similar to the effect that the Internet had on the porn industry, but with a sophisticated literary veneer.
That privacy is just an illusion, of course. The major sellers of ebooks, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others, still track your every purchase. Amazon even keeps track of how many pages you've read and may soon start paying authors on that basis. So they you know that you gave up on James Joyce on page 2, and they know exactly how many times you read that really steamy scene in your latest vampire erotica. If that's not unnerving enough, along with the sordid details of your reading history, they have got your name, your address, and your credit information on file.
Most readers seem willing to trust ebook retailers with their secrets, for better or for worse. At least we don't have to face them in person at the checkout counter.
Top image: via Wikimedia Commons