I'm not even going to describe what 50 Shades of Grey is-- if you don't know already by all the controversy, hype, and love surrounding it, you can read about it here on Amazon-- but this is to repeat what a lot of people have already heard, which is that E.L. James, the author, is estimated to have made somewhere in the area of $50 million from sales and rights.
Besides the actual e-book content, there is quite a bit to interest in these figures. First, her sales are split almost evenly between paperbacks and ebooks-- 9.8 million and 9.6 million, respectively. Some people have commented that, due to the nature of the subject matter, a lot of people prefer reading her books on their ereaders because no one can tell what they're reading just by looking at them, which may account for some elevated sales of ebooks. Another factor is the fact that her paperbacks and ebooks came out at the same time in the US, allowing people to freely choose which format they wanted to read in. One look at Amazon will tell you that a Kindle edition of 50 Shades is selling for $9.99 and paperback is selling for $9.57. As we have seen in the ebook pricing struggle being waged with the Department of Justice, for a while now publishers have frequently staggered the publishing so that hardcovers were available for weeks or months before ebooks, and once the ebook was published (for example at $12.99 or $14.99) the paperback would be available at a much lower price (maybe $7.99).
Perhaps the most astonishing fact in the E.L. James figures, however, is the speed at which her sales have exploded. All of these sales occurred over the past six months. To put it in perspective, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series (consisting of four books) didn't reach those figures for three years.
It will be very interesting to see whether or not her sales have plateaued in the coming months, as well as if publishers begin to revise their schedules perhaps to mimic her simultaneous ebook/paperback editions. Also, I guess, if there is suddenly a dearth of erotica in mainstream publishing. That would be pretty interesting, too.