Booksellers, get out your handcuffs: Roughly one in five physical books sold in the U.S. over most of the spring were the “Fifty Shades” sex trilogy.
That figure comes from Nielsen BookScan data cited in a new Wall Street Journal report on the trilogy’s likelihood of hitting 20 million in sales this week.
Available in stores and airports everywhere and as an e-book, E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy somehow occupies the top four spots on Nielsen’s top 10 adult-fiction list: “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker,” “Fifty Shades Freed” and, rounding out the pack at No. 4, "The Fifty Shades Trilogy," an all-in-one version that retails for $28.71 on Amazon.
“The Fifty Shades Trilogy will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever,” says the book’s promotional copy, which could not be independently confirmed by the Los Angeles Times as of press time. But the book’s sales seem to show it’s true.
The plot features a young college student named Anastasia Steele who falls in love with a hunky, brilliant, handsome, mysterious… well, you can guess the rest. Anyway, there’s a lot of sex and women everywhere are reading it and critics — many of them men, actually — are practically committing seppuku because they can’t figure out how to get their significant other to put the book down.
“Seriously, I have never read a sharper, more brilliantly realized parody of romance fiction in all my born days,” Wallace Baine wrote in a recent review for the San Jose Mercury News. “And whoever this ‘E.L. James’ person is, I'm betting that he/she is on the writing staff of ‘The Colbert Report.’ Check the end credits next time and see if I'm wrong.” (He’s wrong.)
Baine’s anger aside — because 20 million American readers apparently disagree, and that's a lot — the trilogy has been a global sales phenomenon. According to the Guardian, as of June 21, James’ trilogy had been dismantling British sales records left and right: first author to sell 100,000 printed copies of a trilogy in one week; smashed the previous one-week sales record by almost 50%; outpaced the initial sales of “The Da Vinci Code,” the bestselling paperback ever, by 300%.
Not bad for a trilogy that started as Internet fanfiction.