What Do Connected Sex Toys Say about the Future of Publishing?
We’ve all heard it before. “Ebooks, sure, but I prefer a real book: the cracking of the spine. The smell of the paper.” People often pick print because they feel a deep attachment to the materiality of the book: the book as we feel it, as we hold it.
This tension between the beloved physical book and its seemingly sterile digital counterpart was the starting point for SexTech founder and publishing innovator Christel Le Coq. Unsatisfied with the lack of sensory stimulation in erotic ebooks, Le Coq founded B-Sensory and created the world’s first smart vibrator; a sex toy that connects directly to the reading experience.
Erotic fiction fans can purchase the vibrator (it’s called Little Bird), download the B-Sensory app, choose a story in vibration mode and start reading. Readers can then shake and caress their device or blow on the screen to bring the Little Bird to life. There is an “invite a partner” feature for those who wish to add a dash of human connection to their digital experience and, if readers tire of the text, they can operate the vibrator with a mini remote control.B-Sensory has generated a lot of buzz in the world of tech and publishing (#sorrynotsorry) and picked up an innovation award at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show by solving a unique, and sometimes unspeakably taboo, problem.
And that is exactly what a good invention ought to do.
In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel emphasizes how important it is for entrepreneurs to find niches and explore taboos. “Secrets about people are relatively underappreciated,” writes Thiel, “The best problems to work on are often the ones nobody else even tries to solve.” This is informative context for the increasing number of female founders who are looking to technology to create new forms of sexual expression and sexual pleasure for women. Le Coq explicitly links her professional business mission to a more personal impulsion to empower women to sexually experiment and enjoy themselves as much as they do their book.
Personal goals aside, there is also a clear business opportunity here. Le Coq is looking to penetrate the romance and erotic fiction genre, an industry that is worth, according to Nielsen, over $1 billion dollars. Throughout publishing history, romance readers have proven themselves to be truly insatiable when it comes to book consumption. That there is a recurring trend towards digital-first formal innovation within niche areas of publishing, i.e. within clearly-defined genre fiction, makes perfect sense.
B-Sensory is one example of innovation happening in the realm of steamy fiction; another is iOS app Crave. Launched in late 2015, Crave offers teen romance readers bitesize stories in installments (a throwback to the power of the 19th century serial, shout out to Dickens!) shot through with newfangled multimedia gems. The primary readings are variously interrupted by; a text message exchange between the two main characters that appears to unfold in real-time, reaction gifs, screenshots of to-do lists, and short videos of the action. Watching an iMessage exchange unfold is a strangely unsettling experience; it feels intimate, voyeuristic and totally gripping. You are simultaneously watching the character and yet you feel quite acutely like you are the character.
In terms of the future of publishing and technological advancements, it is informative to look towards the markets with the most rabid readership—most often, the niche genres. With a no-holes-barred approach to innovation, B-Sensory has created waves in erotic fiction that may be a harbinger for an increasingly connected, hardware-driven approach to publishing and how we will read in the future. Similarly, formal innovations in the romance and thriller genres illuminate the effects that digital devices can have on what we will be reading in the future. All three of these innovations point in a clear direction; i.e. a focus on all-encompassing, sensory and emotional experience that will bring us towards a deeply-subjective immersive reading reality. Enter Bookulus Rift.
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