Sex sells as erotic ebooks come good

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Erotic fiction covers from Selena Kitt websiteThere's usually an interesting story to be found at the intersection of sex and technology, and so it proves with a look at the emerging market for erotic ebooks. A check on Amazon's UK site for erotic fiction brings up 11,345 results, one author is making $80,000 a month, but censors are troubled.

Selena Kitt, it's a pen name, currently offers 48 erotic enovels on her website and also runs the eXcessica website that sells erotic work by a number of authors. Titles include Plaid Skirt Confessions, Heidi and the Kaiser and, in a neat juxtaposition of two lucrative ebook trends, Vampire Seductress.

Interviewed by bnet's Erik Sherman, Kitt estimates she's earned $238,000 in the first three months of this year alone. A housewife with two young children, she started writing from home in 2008 and, by 2009, was clearing $3,500 a month.

Kindle Smut

Things really, er, took off when online book club Kindle Smut, itself an offshoot of social network Goodreads.com, recommended one of her titles. In January 2010, she received a royalty cheque from Amazon of $10,000. By July, she was making $22,000 a month.

One of the keys to success is volume, as a number of eauthors are finding. If you offer a good number of books at a low price, readers are more likely to buy more and the word of mouth buzz spreads faster. It's the model that has made paranormal romance author Amanda Hocking millions of dollars.

As far as erotica goes, the ebook format may be a Godsend as it offers readers the chance to enjoy a saucy read without the embarrassment of displaying a book cover. But where sex is concerned, there are always sensibilities to consider.

Content guidelines

Amazon is currently embroiled in controversy for removing some titles from its physical and ebook shelves for "violating our content guidelines". But it's unclear how those guidelines are applied as while some titles featuring incest and rape have been removed, others haven't.

Kitt's eXcessica site established itself by making titles featuring incest, non-consensual sex and bondage and domination themes – as long as characters involved were over 18 – available at a time when other publishers would not. And this area opens up the whole complex argument over what is literature and what is porn, and whether that makes any difference.

Barnes & Noble

And while clearly it's possible to make a very good living from any form of epublishing, authors are even more vulnerable than ever to the changing whims of publishers. When Barnes & Noble dropped the preview button from its listings, Kitt's sales plunged.

Earlier today, in the article on media technology linked below, I argued that technology was returning magazine and periodical publishing to the hands of the few. In the book market it may well be the case that authors prepared to work at building a body of work and marketing it hard can continue to make money. But here, too, it's the distribution mechanism that is key.

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