Today in “News that will make you weep for humanity”, EL James’s Twilight Fanfiction Master of the Universe, otherwise known as Fifty Shades of Grey, passed one hundred million sales worldwide, its publisher Vintage Book announced this week. Just under half of those sales were in the USA alone, so even though James is from my side of the pond, you only have yourselves to blame. Your inner goddesses should be on the naughty step now.
To put those numbers into some soul crushing context, Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities was said to have sold over 200million copies by 2010, 141 years after its initial publication. The Da Vinci Code, a novel on the same level as James’s work in terms of quality, had sold over 80million copies by 2009.
Before you prepare your bags for the rapture, let’s look to the future. While many had speculated that hype had been dying down for the upcoming film adaptation due to its delayed release date and actor changes, this does signal some clear interest in the project. Even if a big margin of those buying the book are just morbidly curious (and the significantly smaller sales by comparison for the other two books suggest that’s a possibility), there’s still clearly an audience for a movie. Given its relatively low budget of $40million and Valentine’s Day slot, it will probably do solid box office numbers, even in a weak month and with costs considered for the undoubtedly huge promotional push it will receive. The R rating also implies that the film will be less porny than the book (and no tampon scene either. I know you’re all devastated).
Then there’s the big question: What is the legacy of Fifty Shades of Grey? Will it be looked upon with scorn or praise in fifty years’ time, or even ten years’ time? It’s already become a source of pop culture parody and mockery, some of which is sexist but a lot of which is just because it’s a misogynistic piece of hackery written by a someone who doesn’t know the first thing about BDSM. Many will claim it revived the romance industry, even though that was doing fine without fanfiction, and I’ve yet to be convinced that the New Adult surge that followed in its shadow has any real staying power. Whatever the case, that sexist badly written fanfiction made James a lot of money, so I need to start writing my fanfiction of her work to have published with the names changed. Hey it’s okay to do it with her work if she did it with Meyer’s work, right?