4 Financial Lessons From "Fifty Shades of Grey"


I have a confession: I read "Fifty Shades of Grey." All of it. And before you judge me, you should know that even if you haven't read it, chances are many of your neighbors, co-workers, and family members have. For all the terrible reviews it got, the series (yes, there are three books) sold 70 million copies worldwide. Statistics don't lie, people. (See also: Financial Lessons From The Hunger Games)

At any rate, I read this book not for the fantasy, not to get to know the ins and outs of what everyone else was talking about (and there were a lot of ins and outs in this book). No, I read it strictly in search of financial lessons. I'm really that professional. It's just the way I roll.

Or at least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

So, without further ado, here are four financial lessons you can learn from "Fifty Shades." Because that's what you were reading it for too... right?

1. Financial Independence Is Hot

I think the most (and, let's face it, often the only) really interesting things about "Fifty Shades" is the power struggle between its two main characters, the millionaire business mogul Christian Grey, and the errrr... inexperienced... college graduate, Anastasia Steele. Now, it would be easy to assume that the power here lies with the rich dude, and that the fairytale of it all would be for Anastasia to marry him, have lots and lots of sex, and live happily ever after in some mansion somewhere. (See also: Financial Perks of Marriage)

To be fair, that sort of happens, but Anastasia also strives for her own career success, pushes back when Christian exerts too much control over her, and generally reverses a lot of the stereotypes you'd expect her to adhere to. That's not such a bad lesson for women, many of whom apparently still aim to marry rich.

A 2011 study conducted by the London School of Economics found that the number of women who are "marrying up" had doubled over the past 50 years. Oh, and not a single woman surveyed said they'd marry someone who made less than they did. Marrying rich isn't such a bad thing, but if you can take any (non-sexual) inspiration from Anastasia Steele, it's that this doesn't mean you have to check out of the workforce. In fact, Anastasia seems to find that earning her own money and building her own career is as important as it is satisfying, regardless of the money. Now that's hot. (See also: Quotes to Inspire Your Dream Job)

2. In Investing, Public Passion Is Private Profit

It isn't like sex didn't sell before "Fifty Shades" was published (there's a reason for that cliche), but it sold even better afterward — at least to a certain female demographic. Sex toy retailers reported upswings in sales of the types of toys used in the book of 30% or more. One retailer in the U.K. sold out of a signature line they'd developed based on the book within 24 hours. And hardware retailers reported selling an awful lot of rope to women in New York City. I'll let you work that last one out for yourself.

This industry — and perhaps society — is seeing a shift as these once-taboo products begin to appear in major retailers like Walgreens. Whether you invest in this industry is up to you, but the lesson here is if you see a shift like this in any market, it's worth considering for your portfolio.

3. If You Want to Score, You Have to Get Lucky

The financial success "Fifty Shades" experienced surprised everyone — including its author E.L. James.

The truth is that while this book does have a horrifying ability to seduce its reader, a lot of other things came together to give this story a happy ending. Its plain cover was a huge departure from the textured, bodice-ripping abominations that are usually associated with erotic fiction. That meant women could buy "Fifty Shades" — and read it — without blushing. The rise of e-readers helped push that success even further, and has helped spawn a huge boom in erotic fiction in general, where 50% of the market is in ebooks. I guess there's nothing like being able to read something pornographic whenever and wherever you want to. (Just tell onlookers you're reading "War and Peace.") (See also: Reasons to Choose Printed Books Over E-Books)

4. Don't Be Afraid to Crack the Whip

Metaphorically, I mean. On yourself. Because if you find an unexploited niche like E.L. James did, if you're willing to take a no-holds-barred approach to conquering new territory, you could make millions. Ninety five million, to be precise. Plus the movie rights, which are expected to be worth another $5 million for the author.

You can argue that this book is poorly written (it is). That it lacks literary merit (it does). And even that the sexual antics of its characters are in poor taste (I'm not going there). What you can't argue with is that people — millions of people — responded to it. E.L. James may have been a middle-aged British housewife with no writing credentials, but she was no dummy: She wrote a book she would want to read. When she got a huge response to her early drafts online, she persevered and published it. And the rest, as they say, is literary history. (See also: The Secret to Succeeding at Everything)

Or... not.

But the fact that those sorts of miracles still happen is a great lesson, especially for entrepreneurs. Find what's missing in the world and create it. It doesn't even have to be something revolutionary like a time machine or a cure for some horrible disease. It could just be a really smutty book. Whatever it is, here's hoping you find a way to make bank on it like E.L. James did. If you don't, I have one last piece of advice: "Fifty Shades" makes for great escapist reading.

Any other takeaways from the Fifty Shades series I've missed? Personal finance takeaways, that is. Please share them in comments!

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