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Stories for Sale

Stories for Sale

June 30, 2006
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" More and more extreme is where the market is "

According to the Encyclopedia of Literature (Merriam Webster), written pornography has been largely superseded by explicit visual representations of erotic behavior since World War II. But in modern culture, where sex has saturated nearly every form of entertainment and where the Internet has become the greatest disseminator of content, it seemed only a matter of time before the salacious written word made a comeback.

But is it possible to create a viable business model from websites and web rings that specialize in literary erotica? And further, does quantity equal quality?

“I make a modest amount of money off my site, a case of wine occasionally,” writer James Martin of SolomonsRefuge.com says. “But I don’t work at monetizing it. Half of my site is about the social importance of porn, and I don’t even try to monetize that.”

Solomon’s Refuge is part of the Authors of Literary Erotica Web Ring, founded in 2000 as “a sizzling collection of sites for published authors … and webzines of literary erotica” that features links to 103 websites with Victorian-esque titles like Pursed Lips, My Secret Obsession and Rod Harden’s Titillating Tales.

“The stories I write, over time, will make a reasonable amount of money for me,” Martin says. “I’m not that prolific, so it works out as a decent pay-per-story over a long period. And the stuff never ends up at the bottom of the birdcage or stacked in the cellar. I can be satisfied making 10 cents a day on a story through affiliates. It’ll all work out.”

Martin believes that every time printing presses — so to speak — become cheaper and more widely distributed, there is an explosion of content.

“Over time, wheat separates from the chaff, or so you’d think,” Martin says. “But erotica is somewhat different. It’s like sex: When it’s good, it’s very good and when it’s bad, it can be even better.”

Adrienne Benedicks, founder of the popular Erotica Writers and Readers Association (ERWA), agrees with Martin — to a point. Benedicks founded ERWA in 1996 after she first plugged into the Internet and, like millions of other users, began searching for adult sexual material.

“I craved sexy stories; really good, really hot, sexy stories,” Benedicks says. “Much to my disappointment, all I found were boring, mechanical scenes with a lot of ‘Ohhh my Gawd, I’m cumming’ nonsense. Quantity does not translate into quality. Unfortunately too many people believe that if they can fuck, they can write erotica, and if they can write naughty little emails to turn on a lover, they can write erotica, which is hardly the case.”

So Benedicks founded ERWA, which today attracts 468,000 unique monthly users and is based on what she describes as a viable and successful business model.

The company is financially secure and growing at approximately 20 percent a year, Benedicks reports, and income comes from affiliate programs, various advertisement options and content and brand licensing fees.

Reviews With Links
Benedicks says significant income is being realized via adult DVD reviews, with reviews and titles linked to Adult DVD Empire, and sex toys with links to Libida.com. Other income is derived through affiliate programs with Amazon, ForTheGirls.com, AEBN, Sapphic Cash, Adult Friend Finder and many more.

“ERWA consists of three parts,” Benedicks says. “There’s the monthly newsletter, Erotic Lure, an active email discussion list with more than 1,000 subscribers, and our website, which is the only free comprehensive resource for people interested in reading and writing erotic literature. For readers, we offer a plethora of book recommendations, including our own erotic gallery of original material, Flashers (very short snippets of sexy prose) and limericks. For authors, we have dozens of advice articles written by noted erotica authors, networking and publishing opportunities and current calls for submissions.”

Benedicks says that ERWA’s demographics cover more than people looking for sexy reads.

“They’re also looking for writing resources, and this is what makes ERWA very different from the average erotica site,” she says.

This year, Thunders Mouth Books (Avalon Publishing Group) will publish ERWA’s first anthology, “Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association,” edited by celebrated author Lisabet Sarai.

ERWA’s nearest competitor is CleanSheets.com, a weekly online magazine devoted to encouraging and publishing quality erotic fiction, poetry and art.

In other words, the founders of Clean Sheets realized that it takes more than purple prose to turn a dime. Like ERWA, Clean Sheets made itself into a free comprehensive resource center on the subject of human sexuality while never forgetting that literary erotica is what put them on the electronic map.

Founded in 1998, Clean Sheets boasts more than 3,000 readers a day and millions of page views per month. An impressive amount of what they publish is picked up by major print anthologies every year, including “Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica Series” and Mammoth Books’ “Best Erotica” series. Clean Sheets also operates an independent publishing arm, Samba Mountain Press, that publishes the critically acclaimed “From Porn To Poetry” print anthology series, along with publishing individual full-length works from Clean Sheets contributors.

Clean Sheets is officially sponsored by retail powerhouse Babeland and has affiliate programs with Amazon, Netflix and Libido Films.

Valentine Bonnaire (VelvetBabe.com), a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and short story writer whose current focus is literary erotica, has written for both ERWA and Clean Sheets. She expresses concern that the handful of successful literary erotica sites are catering to fetishists to increase market share.

Extreme Market
“More and more extreme is where the market is,” Bonnaire says from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It’s sort of a swampy weirdness. Almost nobody writes straight hetero erotica anymore; it’s all sub-genres, like BDSM and transgender stories.”

However, Robert Buckley, fiction editor for ERWA, disagrees.

“There has been quite a surge in BDSM and domination-themed stories,” Buckley says. “But they haven’t edged out the straight vanilla tales, and they too are melding into more mainstream stories. I think you have to remember that the web is a huge place that can accommodate all kinds of genres and sub-genres. If you’re looking for extreme sites, you’ll find them, but the softer stuff is out there in abundance.”

The Internet, Buckley says, has made it possible for a broad spectrum of tastes and kinks to be satisfied, more so than traditional bookstores ever would or could.

“I think this is all good,” he says.

Benedicks says she hasn’t felt compelled or realized the need to indulge in sub-genre stories.

“ERWA’s focus is on erotica that is good, be it straight vanilla, queer, bent or over-the-top fetish,” she says. “Although we do not cover all the sub-genres the greater majority of erotica in our categories is not fetish; perhaps that’s why we’re so popular with readers. We are not a niche or in it for the shock value, rather we are all about quality across the board.”

People come to sites like ERWA and Clean Sheets, Buckley observes, “because they are looking for something more than a simple stroke story or a nuts-and-bolts sex description. They’re looking for plots and character, a story that has sex in it but not always exclusively about sex.”


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