Sex sells: Online retailers rake in profits with dirty e-books

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Minds might be in the gutter, but the sales of dirty e-books certainly are not. Book-selling powerhouses such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble are raking in major profits from the sleazier online titles and genres that readers can absorb behind the privacy of tablet screens.

In 2012, romance and erotica topped revenue charts with $1.4 billion in sales. However, the profit tactic has left the book retailers in one of those Fifty Shades of Grey areas. Despite the revenue benefits of the taboo genre, Amazon and B&N appear to be on the fence themselves in regards to the promotion of erotic fiction. A 2010 pedophilia guide sold on Amazon finally got pulled by the online retailer after the illicit subject matter sparked controversy. But in lieu of the book’s eventual removal from the site, Amazon released a statement shortly after defending its decision to offer the item:

Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.

The economics of erotica have never been a real question: sex sells. And maybe 50 Shades of Grey is to blame—the 2011 novel featuring a naive college graduate’s relationship with a BDSM-obsessed business mogul—as it sparked a more recent wildfire-like spread of naughty fiction fascination. But the levels of provocative seem to go way beyond the bondage/dominatrix realm; Amazon keyword searches reach the furthest ends of the sexual spectrum, including pedophilia, bestiality, and incest.

Although successful sales numbers might help disputable titles avoid a ban, they do not overpower the decision-making ultimately determined by retailer representatives. Both Amazon and B&N have appeared to strip their bestseller lists of several erotica books. As an alternative, erotic novels with warranting sales can appear in the top 100 online, a B&N spokeswoman told the New York Post.


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