Last week I posted about Fifty Shades of Grey being art…then, a few days later, posted about Cause and Effect and how it figured into my next novel.
For some reason I began thinking about the two posts and how they could be tied into a single question…
Do people buy a book because it is popular—or—Does a book become popular because people buy it?
Sticking with the Fifty Shades example…
The series passed the 100-million copies sold mark in February 2014, and I would assume that the popularity of the movie caused another spike in sales.
Now let’s look a little bit of historical info.
50SoG was originally written as fan-fiction based on the Twilight series (another series that could have served as an example for this question). Twilight has also eclipsed the 100-million mark in sales – a very impressive number.
But is it impressive simply because of the sheer volume? Or is it a true barometer of the level of quality inherent in the work?
Let’s face another fact…America is The Land of the Fad.
Don’t believe me?
Then explain to me if you will…
- The Pet Rock
- Cabbage Patch Kids
- Oxygen Bars
Yes, here in The Land of the Free…we will stand in line for days to purchase the latest hot-ticket item and even throw a few punches to get the last one off the shelf. We’ll pay top dollar for something we could get for next-to-nothing (water) and we’ll replace a perfectly good product with the latest version (iPhones) for no other reason than it’s this year’s model.
So is it a stretch to think that we will buy a book based solely on the fact that “everybody is reading it”?
I think the numbers speak for themselves.
While I still stand by my post about 50SoG being art…I also believe that you can’t judge a book by its sales numbers – especially a number like 100-million.
That’s a mind boggling number.
To put it into perspective let’s look at Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…
Arguably one of the best books ever written (in this country), it was published in 1885 and sells about 200,000 copies per year. That means it will sell 1 million copies every five years. So how many years will it take to sell 100-million?
According to my math – that’s 500 years.
Let that sink in for a minute…
It would take 500 years for one of the best pieces of American literature to match the sales numbers Fifty Shades has hit in less than 5 years.
Surely this doesn’t mean that 50SoG is a better book than Huck Finn? Not just better…better by a factor of 100?
I refuse to even entertain that thought.
I think the only thing we can accurately discern from this is that Fifty Shades is benefitting from being the most current fad, and like all fads it will fade into the annals of pop culture history before the next President is elected. It will be nothing more than a question in Trivial Pursuit (talk about fads) where the answer is perpetually on the tips of people’s tongues.
You might say that it won’t be long before we turn the page on it and move on to the next chapter.
Naturally this topic deserves a much deeper conversation than I am offering here, but I think it is safe to say that, when it comes to the book buying public in America, we can invoke a thought from one of my other recent blog posts…If you build it, they will come.
Face it America…if Madison Avenue says you want it, you’ll sell your sister into slavery to get it.
As always – thank you for reading