Books, Erotica and Kindle (SFW)

Despite the fact that 4000 new books were published every day in 2013, 23% of the adult population of the United States did not crack open a book in 2013. The Pew Research Center published their findings with the ominous warning that the trend of non-readers is growing larger every year. Another, less reputable survey concluded that 89% of American adults did not read a book cover to cover in the calendar year surveyed. However, 31% of the adult population read eleven or more books in 2013 or at least started them. Someone is reading at least some of these new books.

UNESCO tracks the number of books published in the world by country. In 2014 2,200,000 books were published on the planet, about 6000 a day. Of that number 537,000 were published in the U.S., U.K, Australia and Canada, breaking down to 1475 books per day in these English speaking countries. Almost none of these books made significant sums of money.

Kindle Publishing, owned by Amazon, promotes the publication of books directly from the author to the reading public. The enticement for the writer is a greater share of the profits from each eBook download. An author can expect $2.80 for every book priced at $3.99. This pricing structure is a tremendous boon for an unknown author.

Until now.

Kindle is changing its payment program from dollars per download to a percentage of the dollars based on how much of the book the downloading reader of the book reads. Payment does not begin until the 10% mark. Once 10% of the book is read the author receives 10% of the total if the entire book is read. The author receives the full $2.80 (on a $3.99 book) only if the reader reads to the end of the text. Yes, Amazon tracks how many pages you read of every book you have downloaded from them. If you skip to the end of the book, cutting out chunks of the middle pages, there is an algorithm that identifies that behavior as well.

Big Brother knows what you are reading and just as important, what you are not reading. However, Amazon has opened up a vigorous platform with ever expanding room for new authors. Amazon is in the business of online retail, and Kindle and Kindle Publishing is a part of the business plan. The goal is to make money by attracting authors who will produce work that reading consumers want to purchase by download. Kindle Publishing offers a new avenue for aspiring authors to make money in the narrow and idiosyncratic (some say failing) publishing industry.

All is not functioning well on this new platform, which is to be expected. Within the broad-based and convoluted system of Kindle, there are ways to advance one’s personal priority over others with methods that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Another term for this sort of advancement is “gaming the system.”

This is a tail tale of sex or, more precisely, writing naughty stories. Results on the Kindle platform demonstrate the easiest way to encourage a download of an unknown book is to put forth a salacious cover. A significant population of readers are looking for the promise of an erotic story, a naughty fantasy often with particular kinks. The most prolific downloading readers of erotica on Amazon are women who enjoy fantasies of cowboys, firefighters, billionaires (e.g. 50 Shades of Grey) or werewolves followed by gay men who read everything that includes gay sex, including dinosaurs; extra points for this bestseller.

Many of these titles are hack writing – formulaic stories with poor grammar and whose length is no longer than thirty pages long. As a technical accomplishment, these books can be written in a day or two. There is no outside editing, the grammar is typically atrocious and clichéd terms such as “washboard abs” and “burning passion in his/her eyes” are the norm. There are online vendors that cater to these authors, producing the spicy book cover, which is a much better work of art than the writing, for as little as five dollars.

These writers game the Kindle system by producing tens of these books quickly, building a portfolio of fifty to a hundred titles. The last page of the book will be links to their other titles on Amazon. They further game the system by rotating pricing from free to $.99 to $2.99 and back. There is a market for these naughty books but the selection has slipped downward to the lowest common denominators allowed by the restrictions on pornography as defined by Amazon. (Amazon has clear boundaries on what is erotica and what is pornography in books.) This is the definition of hack writing, which has a long tradition in the United States from the “Dime store novels” to “pulp fiction.” Kindle is a new avenue for an old phenomenon.

Amazon wants to close these hackneyed avenues by putting in a new system that excises the profitability of these piss-poor lascivious fictions. The new remuneration system appears to favor book lengths of 300 pages or more as formatted for the eReader. As far as Amazon is concerned, there is nothing wrong with writing erotica but there is an issue with poorly written erotica.

Erotica is healthy and normative, even tales of billionaire werewolves engaging in tentacle sex with virginal lasses on their luxury spaceships as they attempt to penetrate the blockade around the mysteriously inhabited planet of a distant star system. If it gets adults who are not reading to pick up the book, it must be good, right? No human being is exploited in books unlike other forms of pornography such as photography and videos. Contrary to the Puritan view, a fantasy life is healthy, dynamic, and celebratory. A good story is also titillating if written well.

(Yes, tentacle sex is an appreciated and monetarily rewarded kink on Kindle Direct. I cannot make this up.)

A final thought, taking into account that reading dirty stories is usually a private endeavor. Reading books has typically been a solitary affair and reading erotica is typically more so. I do not want to know your kinks; I do not even want to know that you have kinks. Each should keep their private fantasies to themselves or at most, share them with their lover. With the issue of intimate privacy at the fore, is it or is not creepy that a major corporation is tracking your sexual proclivities? Eww.

P.S.: Those free naughty books – you get what you pay for, washboard abs and all.

By Glenn Jacob

Rabbi, Community Leader, Fundraiser, Board Development, Non-profit management, strategic planning, educator, writer, and editor.

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