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Updated 26 Feb 2020

Fifty shades of grey for business

Three key marketing lessons for entrepreneurs.

Axel Rittershaus, Entrepreneur, 10 September 2012  Share  0 comments  Print

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During my recent stay in Las Vegas, the presence of Fifty Shades of Grey was overwhelming: At any given moment there were at least five people reading the printed edition of this book, with many more ‘hidden’ Kindle readers.

My unscientific research showed that more than 80% of the readers were women aged between 25 and 50 years – and these stats didn’t change during the course of the seven days I was there.  In fact, there was no other book as visible as this one.

I confess: I haven’t read the book and I can’t say I plan to, but that doesn’t mean that I – like everyone else – am not aware of it.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has outsold the Harry Potter 7-part series by two to one on Amazon UK, and it’s the very first e-book that has sold more than 1 million times for Amazon’s Kindle alone.

What has made this book such a success, and what can we learn from such phenomenal sales statistics?

Lesson 1: Passion

The initial driver behind the book was not money. A former TV executive, the author EL James began Fifty Shades of Grey as ‘fan fiction’ on a website dedicated to the Twilight Saga.

Due to the adult nature of her writings, James later removed her work from the site and modified it to exclude the Twilight theme.

What entrepreneurs can learn: It takes a lot of passion to develop a great product or service. You have to invest long hours fully dedicated to your dream, and really believe in what you’re doing.

Remember, Fifty Shades of Grey was not written by a professional author and was not pre-sold to a big publisher – and it has still done so well.

If you start with ‘how much money can I make’ in mind, you will most likely fail, simply because the vital ingredient of passion is lacking, and your customers will recognise this.

Lesson 2: Shoestring Budgets can Work

When the trilogy was written, the UK-based author published it through an Australian publisher as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback. This means that there were no big expectations that the book would sell more than a few hundred times.

The small publisher did not have a huge marketing budget, nor did they invest a lot in the launch of the book. They promoted it on relevant blogs and eventually the book was promoted by word-of-mouth recommendation. That’s when sales were boosted.

All of this happened over the course of less than six months in 2011.

What entrepreneurs can learn: Even on a shoestring budget you can reach a huge audience by promoting it on only relevant media/blogs – the trick is to target the right audience. If you don’t believe that online promotions will help your business, find ways to access the right market through partners, resellers, influential people, etc. Just be focused.

Lesson 3: Focus on a Niche

The content of the Fifty Shades trilogy is not written for everybody. In fact, it’s for a very specific niche and that’s one of the reasons it was not published by a large publisher in the beginning – because it had a market that seemed to be ‘too tiny’.

As it turns out, the trilogy’s audience is far larger than expected – large enough to make it both the best selling e-book and fastest selling paper back of all time for AmazonUK. The film rights have also sold for several million dollars.

Not bad for a niche product.

What entrepreneurs can learn: Don’t be scared to focus on a very specific niche.

The Internet age is very useful for selling to a niche, because it’s removed the barriers of geographical borders. If you have a product for a niche that might appear ‘too tiny’ in your own country, the audience might be large enough if you sell it internationally.

Your product is not made for online-distribution? A niche-focus is still very powerful if you ‘own’ the niche with your offerings and overall the market is still large enough to feed you.

Depending on the business, sometimes even ten clients are more than enough.

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About the author

Axel Rittershaus, Entrepreneur

Axel Rittershaus is an internationally renowned C-Level / Executive Coach & Author ( who started as an entrepreneur in the IT industry in 1993. He knows that success is the result of hard work and determination even more than innate talent. A master of maintaining focus and follow-through, Axel is dedicated and passionate to see clients succeed beyond their expectations. His C-level and top executive clients are located in South Africa, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Brasil, Hong Kong, China, India and many other countries. Axel is a multiple Two Oceans and Comrades finisher.

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