The E-Book Revolution and the P-word

At The Atlantic, Noah Berlatzky takes on the problem of erotica e-books being big moneymakers on the one hand, but something of an embarrassment for many retailers on the other. He also addresses the recent problem of Amazon randomly filtering erotica titles, but not last year’s PayPal versus erotica debacle.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the “pornography as a motor of technical innovation” theory. VCRs, the internet and e-readers are such great and useful technologies, it’s hard to imagine that the only reason many people wanted them was to consume porn or read erotica. I may be a bit of an exception here, because I have specific tastes and find most erotica and porn dull and offputting (the internet has made it easier to find something that works for me, but it’s still hit and miss). Plus, I’m pretty shameless and have no problems with buying or reading erotic works in public. As for bookstore clerks hitting on women who buy erotica, I used to get hit on in bookstores all the time (it’s a bit less now that I’m older). I didn’t need to buy erotica either to get hit upon, urban fantasy or romance novels would usually be enough. Or indeed being in possession of breasts inside a bookstore. In fact, my teenaged diaries are full of anecdotes about “creepy boys following me around bookstores and looking funny at me for reading SF” – I really did not get it back then.

Nor is “guys hitting on women in bookstores” a new phenomenon. Dublin’s wonderful Hodges Figgis bookstore, which is mentioned in Ulysses, has the relevant quote emblazoned on a wall and it turns out to be a scene where Leopold Bloom hits on women in bookstores. Yes, men already hit on women in bookstores in 1902.

Nonetheless, it’s a good article, though somewhat hampered by the fact that Noah Berlatzky subsumes anything from gay paranormal werewolf romance via 50 Shades of Grey and mainstream erotica like the Black Lace line to pseudoincest and lactation fetish stories under “porn”. Now it’s a common misconception, particularly among men, to view anything containing sexual scenes, including mildly hot romances (and sometimes YA romances with zero explicit sex), as “porn”. But based on previous articles and essays I’ve read by Noah Berlatzky, I would have expected a bit more nuance from him. Romance, even erotic romance, is distinct from erotica. As for the p-word, because of the derogatory connotations, I rarely use “porn” for written works at all and instead use erotica, which is the name of the genre, even for works whose appeal completely eludes me (What is so sexy about incest, real or pseudo?). Cause because it’s not my thing doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with people who do enjoy it.

For “porn” is still a loaded term, particularly in the US.

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