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The bestselling 50 Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James, which has sold over 65 million copies worldwide, is set to rake in even more cash: Random House’s Doubleday plans to release the books in hardcover for the first time in the U.S. on January 29, in time for Valentine’s Day. (The books are already available as hardcovers in the U.K.)
With their availability in hardcover, 50 Shades will complete an almost entirely reversed traditional publishing cycle. The books started out as Twilight fan fiction posted online. A tiny Australian publisher then released them as ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks, selling about 250,000 copies. Random House snapped up the rights in a seven-figure deal, rereleased the ebooks and made 50 Shades widely available in paperback for the first time — where it achieved stratospheric success. Finally, a little under a year later, the books will be released in their most expensive format: The hardcover list price is $26.95 per book, USA Today reports (though that will surely be slashed by retailers like Amazon (s AMZN) and there will be a three-book bundle for $80.85.
Random House Doubleday publisher Anne Messitte told USA Today that readers had asked for the hardcover editions and that these books will be “the ultimate collector’s editions.” Each book has a ribbon for marking its place and an embossed author’s signature on the cover — not high-end enhancements, but a way to make the books somewhat special while keeping them at a standard hardcover price.
The 50 Shades publishing cycle could prove a model for self-published romance titles that became popular as ebooks and are then bought by traditional publishers. Until now, such books have been released only in paperback editions, with the assumption that fans who might have bought the self-published books for just a couple of dollars would be reluctant to pay much more in print. If the 50 Shades hardcovers are a success, though, publishers might feel emboldened to consider hardcover editions of more originally self-published titles. 50 Shades hasn’t just turned the notion of what can be a bestseller on its head — it might show that readers’ ideas of what is “worth” a collectible or hardcover edition have shifted as well.