Trading embarrassments

em·bar·rass: v
1.  To cause to feel self-conscious or ill at ease; disconcert.
2.  To involve in or hamper with financial difficulties.
3.  To hinder with obstacles or difficulties; impede.

Sixteen bodrillion people forwarded me this link, so thank you to all of them: IT World says ebooks are taking off because women can buy erotica and romance without embarrassment. Specifically: “porn is blazing a path to a new media format.”

Lest anyone think I’m quoting out of context, let me grab the two paragraphs that caught my eye.

Barnes & Noble abandoned ebooks once, so why are they coming back to them now? Because the format is starting to take off. Why is that? What’s popular on Fictionwise? Well, once again it seems like porn is blazing a path to a new media format. Of the top 10 bestsellers under the “Multiformat” category, nine are tagged “erotica” amd the last is “dark fantasy”.

Hey, I’m not judging anyone (one of my dearest friends is an erotic romance author) and yes, I’ve used the most salacious Top 10 list on the site in my example, but this data backs up my anecdotal observations. People who read erotic romance and ‘bodice rippers’ love ebooks because of the privacy they offer, both during purchase and when reading.

I disagree with the first, but not with the second. People who read digital copies of romance and erotic romance like ebooks because for a long ass time that was the only format in which they were available. Furthermore, people read erotic romance and romance in ebook form because they prefer to do so. But in terms of purchasing privacy? That’s a tough debate, because for a while, epubs were the only ones who were actively publishing erotic romance. Arguing that people wanted privacy so epubs provided it is putting the cart before the horse, or the balls before the mighty wang. I think privacy was a bi-product (pun intended) of digital publishers seizing a new market opportunity in fiction through the most inexpensive and quickest venue possible: digital media.

 

But in terms of privacy needs driving the market? I disagree. I’m not embarrassed to buy romance or erotica. I really don’t care. My Give-a-Shit is totally broken in that regard. Chas, one of the readers who forwarded me the link, agrees:

I must say that I have NEVER been ashamed to be seen purchasing any romance or erotica.  The only reason I have ever purchased an E-book is due to the fact that I live in BFE and don’t have handy access to a decent bookstore.  I’m an instant gratification type girl – I want to read something right then, not wait for it to arrive, or have to leave the house to purchase the book.  Instant gratification usually always wins.

In fact I must say, I usually take an extended period of time browsing through the romance selection at every book store I go to.  I’ve even been known to strike up loud conversations with the person standing next to me regarding the content of several books.  (Insert husband eye roll here.)

I am PROUD to be a romance reader and refuse to hide in shame or be embarrassed by my choice in reading material.  If I cared what people thought, I hide in a damn cave all day.

Right with you there, Chas. eBooks don’t appeal to me because I’m embarrassed to be seen buying them.

But let’s be honest: privacy while reading is a total benefit to eBooks. Being seen with some erotica covers is embarrassing in the context I defined above: disconcerting, difficult, potentially hampering my financial status. Cover art decisions are often so salacious that while they work as a point-of-sale attractant to potential readers, they do NOT work as something I can read at work on my lunch break without having a call from Human Resources within 5 minutes.

Take Megan Hart’s 2008 book Tempted:

Book Cover

Hart is no slouch in the fiction department. There are a LOT of people who adore her books. I personally couldn’t finish “Broken” because the narrator so strongly reminded me of someone I knew, someone who was broken and still is, that I couldn’t suspend my own painful reality to read the book. Pretty evocative writing, if I can’t get past my own reality because the fiction so strongly resembles it.

Anyway, cover. Take a look at the cover. Can I read that at work? On the subway with umpteen children going to school on the train with me (yes, kids take the subway to school in New York)? For God’s sake, near my mother in law? Yes, there are book covers, but for me, they are a pain in the ass.

I’ll tell anyone who asks what I’m reading, that it’s erotic fiction or historical romance. I’m very up front about it and don’t give a shit what most people think. If they have a hard time reconciling my brain with my enjoyment of romance and erotic romance, that’s their problem. I don’t think less of anyone because they read the NY Daily News, despite the headlines like “Air More Stinky, Kids Less Thinky.

But I cannot read a book featuring a cover of gyrating limps and limped man-titty and massive wangs and side-boob out the yin yang, no matter how blithe I am about my reading material. It’s not a question of my shame. It’s a question of hostile workplace, disciplinary phone calls, or having some fucknut presume upon my own sexual choices based on the cover image I’ve got in my mittened hands. It’s a question of where I can appropriately be seen with openly sexual content because for the most part, the USA is as uptight about sexuality as a virgin’s sphincter, and book covers aren’t going to change that. I remarked on this last weekend as the first ever ebook LOL.

For that reason, among many others, ebooks are marvelous things. I’m not embarrassed to be reading anything. But there are times when the cover art is so over-the-top hornypants I am categorically unable to read it in public.

That said, resting the success on ebooks mainly on “Woo! Hidden porn!” evidence is a faulty argument. The fact that the cover art is now hidden is a minor benefit. I sure as hell do like that benefit but that’s not the main reason I’m a very happy digital reader. The ability to control text size and to read with an on-board light with the Sony 700 or to wirelessly load content on my device as with Kindle I, and Kindle II: The Matzoh Edition, is WAY more important than whether or not anyone thinks I read erotica, or whether the cover art earns me some raised eyebrows. eBooks are as much about a new and comfortable experience of reading as an act of leisure more than they are about squirreling away salacious content from prying, nosy eyes. Peekaboo Porn is a fringe benefit, and a very far-off fringe at that.

 

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    HelenB says:

    I started reading ebooks because it was the only way to read erotic romance. In the Uk it seems that there is only Mills and Boon and tales of hard done by mill girls in the romance section, neither of which appeal to me. I did not choose ebooks to hide the covers though the genre does seem to attract some very ugly covers and I have often bought a book despite the cover art rather than because of it. Mind you, ebooks also hide the manly chests that seem to have taken over paperbooks to a large degree, which is a shame. I love a good chest, preferably with a bit of hair!

    says63, 63 chests and counting.

  2. 2
    HeatherK says:

    I read ebooks because they are easier on my hands. I read very slowly, and I have found that holding a paperback for the amount of time it takes me, leaves my fingers and wrists in extreme pain. I had been putting off reading because I knew it would hurt. I can read hard covers with less pain but can’t really afford them in today’s economic times. Reading on an ebook reader, I don’t have the pain issue and I can sit much more comfortably than I can with a physical book.

    As for covers, well if the cover is questionable I just use a book cover—but that serves dual purposes. It protects the book while in my bag and keeps me from getting “the looks”, especially when in a car dealership waiting for an oil change. I’m not embarrassed by what I read, or even what I write, but I don’t like calling attention to myself, either. I get enough stares over the cane I use at the age I am—I don’t need extra because of my reading choices. But then again, I don’t read a story for the cover—I read it for what lies between the pages. :)

  3. 3
    MB (Leah) says:

    I’m with Heather on why I love reading, actually prefer reading ebooks. I have pain keeping a book open all the time and quite often the font is too small for my aging eyes even with reading glasses. I love reading on an eReader and the convenience of being able to have several books with me on one tiny machine.

    I also could give a crap what people think about what I’m reading. I’m not ashamed to tell people that I’m reading erotica or erotic romance, but I also don’t feel comfortable openly reading books in public with naked peoplz on the cover for the very reasons you point out. People are uptight about stuff like that and why cause myself some trouble over it?

  4. 4
    Anonymice says:

    Personally, and I know this is solely and entirely my own sad hang-up, I find the “privacy” observation to be 100% true for me as a reader. I don’t read ebooks, or erotica, but I do buy romances almost exclusively online. Rationally, I know no one on earth gives a shit about my reading choices, and the bookstore cashier is probably just happy to have a sale, but I am sufficiently neurotic that I don’t want to be seen carrying around a big ol’ picture of a clinch in front of a pastel flower explosion.

    If it came down to a choice between buying romances in person vs. not buying them at all, sad to say, I’d largely give up the genre. (Except for the latest Joanna Bourne. You’ll have to pry those out of my cold dead fingers.)

    So yeah, I’m a chickenshit and I may be an odd case, but I can safely say that the ease of online purchasing converted me to a romance reader, and this would not have happened otherwise.

  5. 5
    ev says:

    I am sure that there are plenty of business women (and men) out there who read ebooks because they CAN read what they want and no one is the wiser. And not necessarily erotica either. 

    How many high-powered executives (or ones on the way up) do you think are able to enjoy their reading material of chioce now, without the bosses, board of directors, or their competition find out and using it against them?

    Seriously, can you just picture some up and coming lawyer having a book with “one of those” covers fall out of their briefcase in front of a jury? Or some women exec at a board meeting? Being the uptight society that we are, you know someone would call their qualifictions into question.

    As for me, I don’t give a good shit what anyone thinks about what I read, but then my husband and family have learned to accept it. Although I do good naturedly rib my gay step-son for running around with “Stiff”. snort.

  6. 6
    Lindsey says:

    I’m not sure how telling a Fictionwise list really is, anyway – they categorize as lot of sexy mainstream romances as erotica simply because it has explicit sex.

  7. 7
    CourtneyLee says:

    I read ebooks because of content. As a MM romance junkie, it’s really the only cost-effective avenue. I’d say that hiding those covers are a big bennie for me, though, because not only would I be dealing with people eye-rolling and/or smirking at clinch covers, their eyes would bug out at the fact that the clinch is between two men (though it’d be hard for anyone to refer to it as a bodice ripper LOL).

    So while my Give-a-Shit is also broken (I can’t tell you how much I love that phrase) with regards to what people think of my reading choices, I just don’t want to have to deal with comments about it while reading gay romance in public.  But it is true that cover hiding is a side benefit of, not a motivation for, reading ebooks.

  8. 8
    DS says:

    When I pick something to read I don’t pick books with erotic content although I have no moral or business objection to it.  I bought maybe two eBooks in the past but didn’t particularly find them enticing. 

    My preference for eBooks started after I bought my Kindle and discovered how great it was to be able to carry loads of books when I travel and not have to face an overweight charge on my baggage—really, the last time I flew B.K. (Before Kindle), I had to Fed Ex a big box of books home from the hotel. 

    So for me it’s crazy convenience.

  9. 9
    Crystal says:

    I love ebooks.  I like that I can read them anywhere and not deal with the looks from co-workers walking by me at lunch.  I can read them over and over and they don’t get damaged or fall apart.  I think the reason I like them so much though, is that I am an instant gratification kind of girl, too.  I hate going to the bookstore and finding out that the book I have my heart set on is out of stock, or they haven’t put it out on the shelves yet.  Drives me crazy.
    I’ve been known to get into conversations in the romance section of the local Barnes and Noble a few (thousand) times.  My husband just sighs and walks away to look at the history books, and I know when I’m finally done chatting a few minutes (okay usually an hour) later where to find him.  I’m not ashamed that I read erotica.  I write it, too.

  10. 10
    ksquard says:

    Also – major point reduction for derogatory use of “bodice-ripper”.

    I’m still nascent in the ebook world, mostly because the Readers are wa-hay out of my price range, but my short association with them on my laptop is positive. I do agree with the instant gratification benefit, among others. I have never, in all the discussions I’ve read here or at DA, or with any of the conversations I’ve had personally, associated the ebook rise as an opportunity for privacy with erotic literature. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me until I read this post. I’ve been embarrassed by explicit 80s covers as a teen, mostly because I was ridiculed for them, but rarely by the content or the fact that I was a romance reader. As an adult, I back all of Sarah’s points regarding explicit covers and the alternative benefits of an ebook in that matter. I certainly do NOT agree that the sole reason for the ebook surge is the privacy benefit. That’s just ignorance in action – again.

  11. 11
    Suze says:

    I will admit to a phase in my life when I was very self-conscious about everything, and sometimes cared about what I was seen reading.  I had books that I was kind of interested in but only read in public, and the really enjoyable ones I only read in private.  These days, that reaction is limited.  The last book I refused to read in public was “How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire”, because of the title.  It turned out to be a pretty entertaining book, though.

    But you’ve got me wondering: because a lot of quality erotica was only available electronically for so long, I do wonder if erotica e-book sales helped push e-reader sales to the point where they seem to be exploding today.

    Which would mean that romance and erotica readers have triggered a revolution in publishing.  Ha!

  12. 12
    Jennie says:

    For me, the real value in the ebook is that it lets me READ the books wherever and whenever I want to.  It’s the whole “what’s that in your briefcase…” mentality that a previous poster mentioned.

    Now I don’t have to differentiate my books into those I read at home vs those I can take out in public (sort of like some relatives).  They are just the books I read, plain and simple.

  13. 13
    hapax says:

    As a public librarian, two of the things that I love about adding e-books to our collection is a) the privacy issue and b) not having to worry about risque covers faced out where community members might see and complain (“we must protekt the CHILLLLDRENNZ!”)

    However, I don’t see a lot of concern for privacy among our patrons.  They’re perfectly happy to come up to the desk and ask for exactly what they want (e.g., the tiny elderly lady with gloves and poufy hair inquiring, in a loud voice, “Have you any books with HAWT Indians?”)

  14. 14

    I guess I like ebooks for several reasons – one is privacy: people do judge books by their covers no matter what their genre and dammit, it’s no one’s business what I choose to read; another is that it’s hard to get decent, new release books in Egypt; and last, I love love love my ebookwise for it’s portability, backlight, and memory. I can carry hundreds of books in my purse on a plane and read when they turn the lights out for as long as my battery will last.

    I guess the privacy aspect is ONE of many reason ebooks are catching on, but it’s not the only reason.

  15. 15
    Angela James says:

    What’s especially disturbing about using Fictionwise as an example, as the article did, is that Fictionwise is NOTORIOUS for mislabeling books as erotica. They take anything that might have any type of sexual content (and some books that don’t) and slap an erotica label on them. It’s been a source of extreme frustration for both Samhain and our authors for years.

    When I first read that article, I twittered something similar to what you wrote: ebook sales were driven by erotic romance because readers couldn’t get that content elsewhere. And I still think, no matter that trad. pubs have picked up on erotic romance trend, that readers still turn to epubs because they can still get good content (and a large quantity of it) from them.

  16. 16
    nonamebrand says:

    One of the things that does appeal to me about buying m/m romances online is the privacy factor. I do feel self-conscious and awkward when perusing the romance section in bookshops, and I like that buying books online means I can buy the books I want ot read without having to face the cashier or other customers in person.

    And then there’s the added benefit that afterwards, I don’t have to explain to anyone in my family why all these m/m romances are on my bookshelves. My family doesn’t know I enjoy reading these books, and while I don’t necessarily want to hide it from them, I also don’t want to have to put up with the comments that would inevitably follow if they found my bookshelves stuffed full of romance. I get enough grief over my choice to read comics (“But you’re too old for comics, haven’t you outgrown them yet?” etc.)

    Life’s too short, and I like that I have an option to read the books I want to read in a format that works for me. So, yes, for some of us, that article is true.

  17. 17
    Jody W. says:

    Ebooks aren’t for porn, the internet is for porn. Can’t they get it straight?

  18. 18
    Lovecow2000 says:

    I wonder if the author of this piece feels that we should be ashamed of what we read and therefore, that is why we buy ebooks?  So, a quote from a friend and info from one seller of ebooks on their top 10 is enough to assume that I buy ebooks because I’m ashamed?

    Nope, it’s the instant gratification and ease of purchase. Also, it’s much easier on my hands for some reason.  I don’t get wrist aches any longer.

    I am glad that I don’t have air the covers in public, but it’s largely to avoid being a**holes commenting on my choices as if they were something I had to defend.  I mean I could read Mein Kampf on the bus and wouldn’t get the same commentary/ looks as I would reading a Jude Devereaux.  So frankly, I’d rather not be bothered.

  19. 19
    T says:

    I read ‘mainstream’—lots of mysteries. The romances I read would fall in the ‘non-erotic’ category.  I always look for the electronic option, although admittedly my reader doesn’t have nearly the ‘library’ of the high-priced models.

    Two of my publishers publish e-books as their primary format.  I write for their mainstream lines. Their erotic lines outsells the mainstream—they say 10 to 1, but I think it’s more like 100 to 1.  And speaking to authors who write for both sides, they say readers don’t follow them across the genres.  Those who read ‘hot’ buy those books because they want to read hot. 

    I can’t really address the cart before the horse issue. There was a marketing niche, and the e-publishers jumped in, and I’ll agree it was probably a cost issue. I’m not sure one can analyze the data accurately, but I’d lean toward the privacy issue being a factor. However, as the sign in scientist hubby’s office says, “The plural of anecdote is NOT data.”

    All I know is when my books come out in print, they outsell my digital versions by a wide margin. Which is a shame because I make a ton more money off each e-book sold.

  20. 20
    Terry Odell says:

    Oops—didn’t mean to be hiding with that last post.  Something didn’t fill in the blanks.

  21. 21
    Jane says:

    As a MM romance junkie, it’s really the only cost-effective avenue. I’d say that hiding those covers are a big bennie for me, though, because not only would I be dealing with people eye-rolling and/or smirking at clinch covers, their eyes would bug out at the fact that the clinch is between two men (though it’d be hard for anyone to refer to it as a bodice ripper LOL).

    Courtney – How about “codpiece ripper”?

  22. 22
    Rainbow Tea says:

    Jane made me glad I’m not drinking anything.

    I’m sure there are a select few who that article applies to. Probably more than a few. But largely it seems the person who wrote it has their blinders on and didn’t bother to look both ways down the street before crossing it.

    I would adore having a ereader. I don’t yet because I love to pieces my laptop and think it’s the most fantastic thing since sliced bread (or the internet) and it’s still only a few months old, and I just purchased a PSP and am saving up for a DSi. So I’m wasting money on other things at the moment – but an eReader is definitely on the short list. (which is why I’m following the eReader Olympics to see what would fit me best. :D ) My Give-A-Shit meter isn’t quite broken yet, but that still doesn’t stop me from buying whatever I want and giving the clerks and other people the Dreaded Dead Eyes of I Will Cut You, Fool if they start making snide comments.

    So thumbs down to the article.

  23. 23
    DeeCee says:

    It used to be when I was in high school I’d hide the books behind a plastic cover, but it got really embarrassing to have half the football team asking what I was reading. I was mortified even with the cover simply because everyone had to know why I would cover a book.

    Now I work in a UBS in an uber religious city and people still feel like it’s their right to now exactly what I’m reading. Most times it doesn’t bother me (except the erotica covers-those are just a little too graphic for me to take to work), but occasionally I’ll get someone that thinks all romance is smut and proceeds to tell me why its not right that I read them, have them on the shelves or why they are printed. I’ve enjoyed watching their eyes pop out when I tell them opinions are like assholes. And on the flip side I get complete strangers walking up to me striking up conversations about books that I never would have guessed they liked, and having a fun debate.

    Ebooks started out for me as a way to get the stories I liked. Erotica, erotic romance, and even sci fi were available online just waiting to be bought, and none of my local book stores carried any of it (and most still don’t).

    I’ve found since I ended up buying an ebook reader that there are many many more pluses to an ebook than I had originally thought.

    1. I no longer have mini-panic attacks when my book shelves start overflowing onto every available flat space possible, because ebooks can eliminate that. I’ve already got a small library of ebooks that have saved me so much space.
    2. I can hold a reader without pain. I have arthritis in both my hands that prevents me from holding a book open without cramping up. Its nice not having to put my hands in hot water before and after reading to ease the pain.
    3. No headaches from straining to see the itty bitty teeny weeny print.
    4. Ease of purchase. In my area new romance books aren’t put out on time, if at all, and its nice to get online and get the ones I want without driving to every bookstore in a ten mile radius. Its really sad when I end up going online to BN.com or Amazon simply because places like WalMart wont stock the Berkley covers.
    5. No cashiers. It sounds stupid, but I’m really put off by cashiers at the big bookstores. One experience a few years ago was with Kate Douglas’ Wolf Tales. I went up to the register, and for some reason it wouldn’t scan. So he has to call a supervisor, who of course has to gawk at the cover, hold the book up and everyone in line has to gawk, and in the end I just felt pissed. How dare someone pass judgement on what I read, when I sure as hell could give a shit about what they bring into my store. I’ve got people bringing in white supremacy books that make fun of my copy of Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison, and that cover is far less “romance looking” than any book published by Aphrodisia.

  24. 24
    XandraG says:

    All the great digital advances have either been spurred on by pr0nz, or have had pr0nz in some way associated with their development.  More than one IT group in a respectable company has used the promise of pr0nz in order to test server loads and response times.

    Sex doesn’t just breed people…sex breeds ideas, too!

    spambot word: child55 haha…no childses allowed in heres!

  25. 25
    Carin says:

    First off:
    “The plural of anecdote is NOT data.”
    I cannot even say how much this makes me smile.  I have big math/sci education that I don’t use on a daily basis any more, but that quote sure warms my heart.

    Second, I don’t have an ereader.  Yet.  It’s on my someday wishlist.  After we figure out if it’s VHS or beta.  I mean HiDef or BluRay.  Ooops.  I mean Kindle or Sony, or when Kindle and Sony are friends.  Anyway, not having one, there are aspects that I find attractive.  The gadget aspect of just wanting something that cool.  The space aspect, of having all those books at my fingertips.  The large font at the push of a button is a very sweet idea. But another attractive thing would be to no longer worry about the covers. 

    Covers.  Ugh.  I didn’t appreciate the bikini beer models my office mates put up back in college.  I don’t like walking around with a good book that happens to have a cover model who works 24/7 to get abs and mantitty like that – not to mention the airbrushing.  I wouldn’t accept it for my girls, why have it around for my son.  (I know, I know, I just need to invest in a good book cover.)  One reason (besides the obvious) that I like large print books – the covers tend to be a much tamer version of whatever was on the paperback!

    So, back on task here, I find it hard to believe that privacy is the big seller for ereaders, but seeing some real data would help figure that out.

  26. 26
    SonomaLass says:

    However, as the sign in scientist hubby’s office says, “The plural of anecdote is NOT data.”

    One of my favorites, and SO true.  As these comments show, there are a lot of different factors contributing to the romance reader+ebook trend.  I think the actual data show that romance first, and genre fiction after that, drive the ebook market.  But they drive the print market too, right?  [We has the power, mwahaha.]  While privacy is clearly one factor for some people, convenience seems to be just as big or bigger.  Nice how assumptions drive this article.

    Oh, and hapax, I loved

    the tiny elderly lady with gloves and poufy hair inquiring, in a loud voice, “Have you any books with HAWT Indians?”

    I so want to be her when I grow up!

  27. 27
    Terry Odell says:

    However, as the sign in scientist hubby’s office says, “The plural of anecdote is NOT data.”

    Totally OT follow up here, but hubby’s done talks about a specific freeze-branded dolphin (Google “dolphin 56” if you’re interested) which keeps showing up where he wouldn’t be expected to be according to ‘science’.  Hubby’s first slide in the presentation is:
    n=1
    (where n = the number of subjects in the study, for those who aren’t up on scientific terminology.)
    You’ve got to remember how the data were collected, where it came from, and how much there is.

  28. 28

    I love the “One of my best friends is an erotica author,” bit.  Is that like when you have a black friend, so it means you can’t be racist?  “My best friend is an erotica author, so it’s totes okay for me to call his/her work porn!”

  29. 29
    Liz says:

    I have never read an e-book.  there is something about reading an actual book that appeals to me in a way that a computerized book probably never will.  I do believe that it can be a convenience definitely when it come to travel—I have set aside whole suitcases for books when I go to California for the summer—, but the feel of a book in my hands is something that an e-book or rather an e-book reader will never be able to replace.  Eventually, I will probably get a Kindle or something of that ilk, but like the Ipod—which i finally got for my 21st b-day in 2007—it will be a long time before that happens.

  30. 30
    Lori says:

    I agree with those that have said that their personal give a crap is busted.  I’m way too old and have way too many real problems to care what other people think of the books that make me happy.  And I call lots of things “porn” because to me that’s not an insult.  It’s more like a term of endearment.   

    I do decide what books to carry in public based on appropriateness.  That’s not because I’m embarrassed, it’s because I try to be considerate of others sensitivities and there are just conversations that I don’t want to have. 

    That said, I think we all need to keep in mind that folks who hang out at a site called “Smart Bitches Trashy Books” are not likely to be a representative sample of the book buying public, even for romance/erotica/porn. I know one person who regularly reads erotica that is well outside my comfort zone, who took one look at this place and about had the vapors.  Apparently borderline incestuous group sex is A-OK as long as it can be purchased in private, but swearing in public is BAD.  Of the people I know I think she’s much closer to the norm than I am.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top