Sex Sells, If You're Willing to Show A Lot of Skin

book coverTwo of IUPUI's savviest faculty authors, Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman, recently released their third book in a popular, myth-debunking consumer health series. The first two titles did well, but this one will be a big hit--sex sells:

Carroll, Aaron E., and Rachel C. Vreeman. Don't Put That in There!: And 69 Other Sex Myths Debunked. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2014.

We don't have the book on our library shelves, yet. But it's in our campus bookstore already and the paperback is affordable ($8.46 at Amazon).

I like free stuff and I'm cheap, but I might even buy a copy. Why? Well, obviously, it's sex ... who could resist chapter titles like "Your Balls Sag with Age." And then, I'm curious about how the authors, the press, and Amazon & crew are selling sex ed when so much is on the internet for free.

Carroll and Vreeman's book is really a list: 70 myths (69 + 1) debunked. The thing about lists is--they don't really sell once we know what's on them. In this case, I want to know, do "balls sag with age" or not? As soon as I know the answer and a couple of the details behind Carroll and Vreeman's conclusions, I'll have lost interest in that particular chapter and will move on to the next question ... maybe "Watching Porn is a Guy Thing" ... is it?

So, just how much of the book can the authors and the publisher give away for free and still make a profit? Or, more accurately, how much of the book MUST the authors and publishers give away if they want people like me to get curious and actually buy a copy?

Based on my rough count, about one third of Don't Put That in There! is currently available for free on the internet. Most significantly, Carroll offers up 20 of the myths on the Mental Floss YouTube channel. The 11 minute video (below) drew over 2 million views in less than 10 days. One the one hand that's over a million people that might buy the book--on the other hand, that gives me 20 chapters that I'm probably not going to read. When you add in the pages you can get for free at Amazon and Google, the marketplace for this title is showing a lot of skin to entice new readers.

Of course, I'm a librarian, and I've done a good bit of evidence-based searching in the health science literature. So, I'm fascinated with the book's 25 pages of references and would love to see the authors' search strategies. So, tip to the authors, if you really want to make me buy this book--don't give that part away.

But the point is, even when it comes to sex, if you want readers, you better be prepared to give a lot of it away on the internet. If you're not writing about sex and you lack the wit of Carroll and Vreeman (and that goes for most of us in the university) ... but you still want readers, you better be prepared to GIVE IT ALL AWAY on the internet. (Tip: use a Creative Commons licence. Or ScholarWorks. Or one of our other Open Access services.)

This isn't a crazy plot driven by a cabal of free culture advocates or an experiment of the publishing industry; rather, this is the market place for readers. Take a hint from Don't Put That in There! and give your readers what they want.

-- Jere Odell

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Updated Mar 27, 2016 by Scholarly Communication Librarian