Newspaper article International New York Times

Sex Toy Industry Chases 50 Shades of Green ; as Erotic Novel Makes It to the Screen, Retailers Bank on Numerous Tie-Ins

Newspaper article International New York Times

Sex Toy Industry Chases 50 Shades of Green ; as Erotic Novel Makes It to the Screen, Retailers Bank on Numerous Tie-Ins

Article excerpt

The sex toy industry hopes that the film will generate soaring sales, much the way the erotic novel created thousands of new customers.

When toys are made for movies, they are usually intended for children.

But with the Valentine's Day weekend premiere of "Fifty Shades of Grey," many of the tie-ins to the film are for adults only.

The sex toy industry is banking on the hope that the movie, a Universal Pictures production, will generate soaring sales, much the way the blockbuster erotic novel of the same name created thousands of new customers from the female readers who passed the book around their suburban cul-de-sacs.

In anticipation of such keen interest, mainstream retailers are stocking up on the pleasure industry's blindfolds, whips, handcuffs and masks. Manufacturers have designed new packaging and products to fit the kinky tone and theme of the film, which is based on E.L. James's story about a naive young woman's introduction to games of sexual bondage.

Even Target, one of the largest retailers in the United States, recently began selling an official "Fifty Shades of Grey" "vibrating love ring," an item intended for wear by men, but not on the finger.

"It is the biggest moment for our industry in popular culture pretty much ever," said Claire Cavanah, a co-founder of Babeland, an adult novelty retailer. "We're all sort of preparing for what could be another wave of toys."

Ms. James's sexually charged trilogy -- two followed "Fifty Shades of Grey" -- became a cultural phenomenon and turned Ms. James into something of a legend.

She sold the publishing rights to Vintage Books, a division of Random House, and soon reached even more readers who may never have normally read erotic fiction.

Last year, Vintage Books announced that it had sold 100 million copies of the series. Ms. James, a middle-aged British mother and former television producer, was credited with introducing the concept of BDSM (standing for, loosely: bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism) into the mainstream vernacular.

She also ignited a huge bidding war in Hollywood. Executives vied for a chance to pitch Ms. James and her literary agent, Valerie Hoskins, on how best to tell the story of Anastasia Steele, a virginal 21-year-old student who becomes the submissive sexual partner to Christian Grey, a successful 27-year-old businessman.

Universal Studios and Focus Features eventually won, and agreed to pay $5 million for the rights to make the film.

The studio wanted to capitalize on the same readers -- and others -- who sent sales of adult products skyrocketing after "Fifty Shades of Grey" had its debut as an e-book in 2011. Suddenly, retailers had trouble keeping once-obscure products in stock. The novel spurred a 7.5 percent jump in sales of sex-themed products, including toys, videos and books, in 2013, according to a report from the research firm IBISWorld.

"We were kind of taken by surprise when the book came out," Ms. Cavanah said. "But we're much more prepared for the movie."

The movie will not be as graphic as the book. Neal Slateford, a co-founder of Lovehoney, the only company that has the rights to make the official "Fifty Shades of Grey" adult products sold in Target and elsewhere, does not expect certain toys used in the book's steamiest scenes to appear in the movie.

In an interview, Mr. Slateford said that his brand would not be featured in the film either, although some of the tamer products themselves could be.

"I think that the movie will reignite sales of the book, which could boost sales," he said.

Adult-toy experts say it is difficult to provide an accurate estimate of sales for specific items inspired by the book. …

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