A good sign of the size of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon comes not in the mainstream publication of the BDSM-themed one-time Twilight fanfic, nor in the plans for a movie version that have been floating around since the book got big in the sales charts. It isn’t even the book’s sales success, but instead the sales success of something else altogether: The books parodying the series.
PaidContent points out that two separate 50 Shades of Grey parody books have, somewhat surprisingly, hit the charts in their own right, noting that “a would-be parody of 50 Shades of Grey called 50 Shades of Black & Blue by I B Naughtie (ha ha) has risen to #41 on the Amazon Kindle Store’s UK Bestseller list despite terrible reviews,” adding that “Not far behind it is another “parody” called 50 Shades of Red, White & Blue by Maggie Muff (again, ha ha).”
Ignoring the fact that the two books somehow made it into the top 50 Kindle charts despite truly scathing reviews – although many, apparently, seem to comment that they bought the book accidentally, believing that it actually was part of the 50 Shades of Grey series; something that either speaks to the gullibility of fans, the spot-on work of the parody writers, or the “Telephone” qualities of Internet phenomenons turned “real life” hits – what’s interesting about this is the ease of parody work to reach a mass audience online. Previously, parodies such as these were the works of small presses, with books published in such small numbers – and distributed in such a spotty manner – that they were, essentially unseen by the mass public. With the advent of digital, however, and the democratizing effects that has on media publishing, that’s clearly no longer the case.
As PaidContent points out, there is legal recourse for publishers and authors who feel that their work is being ripped off – JD Salinger managed to shut down a book called 60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye after threatening the small publishing house behind the project with legal action, for example – but parody, of course, exists in an odd area legally, being potentially legal under free speech laws depending on just how much parody and/or recycling of the original concept is present in the final product (There’s also the matter of the cost of any potential lawsuit, and how off-putting that could be to small publishers or authors).
Instead, the site suggests, it should fall to Amazon and other online distributors to police their catalogs for any potentially offensive (commercially, at least) material such as parodies and ensure that they are not available for purchase. I’m unsure that’s a workable solution, however, because if the parodies aren’t illegal, it’s asking the companies to give up sales… And is that really going to happen, regardless of quality?