The Real Force Behind Ebook Sales: Heaving Bosoms

Male politicians aren't the only ones using tech to explore their sexual fantasies.

Women are quietly using ebooks more and more, devouring lusty titles like "Maid for the Billionaire," "Outcast," "My Horizontal Life" and "Cotillion" -- among the current bestselling ebooks for Amazon's Kindle.

It's a trend that has made magazine publishers and companies like Barnes & Noble sit up and take notice: Women like ebooks, and women like romance novels, a lot. So say goodbye to your stereotypes. New technology sales aren't always driven by four-eyed nerds with too much disposable income on their hands. This new wave of electronic books looks like it's being driven by women who are more interested in the content than, er, screen sizes.

This technological trend may reflect the sexual differences between men and women, which have been well documented since Kinsey. One recent study suggests just how those differences have been transposed onto our digital lives, particularly online. Published last month by two cognitive researchers, "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" analyses millions of online searches by men and women. It also looked at the content of erotic Web sites, who visited them, and the comments they left (politicians beware!).

The unsurprising results: men go straight for graphic porn online while women covet stories whose plot lines are leavened with heaving bosoms -- and where men have "chiseled features" and "powerful thighs." That's raising hopes among magazine and book publishers.

Women's magazines, for example, are experiencing something of a digital renaissance, particularly on Barnes & Noble's Nook ereader. The top magazines on the Nook Color include US Weekly, Shape, and Women’s Health, and sales of female-oriented titles like Cosmo and O are reportedly exceeding sales on Apple's competing iPad.

So are men iPads and women Nooks?

Nook are smaller, lighter, and fit in a purse more comfortably, which might account for some female preferences. And ereaders also don't have those telltale Fabio covers that show everyone in the coffee shop what you're reading. Conversely, iPads are big and heavy and make statement: I'm into tech.

Although ereader companies don't reveal specific sales numbers, there is some evidence of this trend. Men account for 56 percent of tablet owners, according to Forrester Research, while women account for 55 percent of ereader owners. There's also a clear trend at libraries that now offer ebooks.

According to the New York Public Library, which has the highest circulating ebook library in the U.S., ebook loans are up 36 percent compared to the same time last year. And while general fiction accounts for the vast majority of loans, electric romance stores are the most popular genre by far, more than double the number of the next most popular genre, mysteries. The library also notes that most ebook checkouts take place on weekend nights.

Does that mean Miss Lonelyhearts are the biggest borrowers? Perhaps, but it's also the one time when people have free time and the physical libraries are closed.

So make all the jokes you want about heaving bosoms and chiseled chins. At at time when most consumer electronics companies and publishers are desperately looking for hits, salacious chick lit may be just the ticket. Most titles are quick reads -- perfect for the ereader format -- and also usually come in a series. Consequently, fans tend to read them like they eat potato chips, in rapid succession (so they buy more).

In other words, once is not enough.