Fifty Shades of Grey: Barnes & Noble's saving grace?

The floundering book retailer exceeds financial expectations — thanks in part to a pleasant sales bump from the erotic page-turner

Fifty Shades of Grey
(Image credit: AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan)

"Barnes & Noble loves mommy porn," says Peter Kafka at All Things D. The struggling brick-and-mortar bookseller reported a smaller loss than anticipated for its most recent fiscal quarter, thanks to a surprise jolt from the sexed-up Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Millions of fans have been devouring the guilty-pleasure erotic novels, which center around the indulgent sexcapades of heroine Anastasia Steele and her older wealthy lover Christian Grey. The first novel has become the fastest-selling paperback of all time, beating out even Harry Potter. Here's what you should know about Barnes & Noble's economic stimulus package:

How did Barnes & Noble do last quarter?

Not as bad as Wall Street had predicted. The company reported a net loss of $41 million — an improvement from 2011, when the quarterly loss was $56.6 million. Overall, revenue grew 2.5 percent last quarter, to $1.45 billion.

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How does Fifty Shades of Grey fit in?

Barnes & Noble saw "rapid growth in content sales from its Nook e-reader," as well as "unexpected strength" in bookstores thanks to booming sales of the E.L. James trilogy, says Steve Schafer at Forbes. How big of a boost did Fifty Shades give the bookseller? Barnes & Noble won't say exactly. But to get an idea of how well the books are doing, the trilogy occupies the top three spots on The New York Times' best-seller list in both print and e-book fiction.

Is Fifty Shades really saving Barnes & Noble?

It's certainly helping. And the company is optimistic about the future, with plans to release a new Nook tablet in the coming months, and to spin off the digital side of its business into a new subsidiary using a $300 million investment from Microsoft. "The digital content is still growing pretty quickly," Peter Wahlstrong, a senior analyst with Morningstar Equity Research, tells The New York Times. That means "that either the overall end market is growing or [Barnes & Noble is] taking share, which is encouraging."

Sources: All Things D, Daily Beast, Forbes, New York Times, Washington Post

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