“The Business of Suspense”, written by Erin Steiner

The Business of Suspense: How People Make Bank on Giving Scares


Ten bucks says he’s looking at a clown.

There are just some people who really love to be scared. They seek out opportunities for fear — they read scary books, watch scary movies, and test the boundaries of their physical limitations (skydivers and bungee jumpers, we are looking at you).

Why? There are several theories.

There is an adrenaline rush that comes with watching scary things. That adrenaline rush keeps your emotions and senses heightened for a while after seeing the movie or reading the scary part of a book. This can make the good things feel even better. Who wouldn’t want that? The flip side, of course, is that the bad things feel even worse. Still, that heightened awareness can be addicting.

For some, the fun comes from knowing that they aren’t actually in any danger. They can live vicariously through the lives of the people on the screen without the sickening dread of the situation actually being life or death. When you know you’re safe, horror is fun.

Some people simply like the puzzle of it all. This is typically truer of horror movie fans than of horror novel readers. During a horror movie, these people like to take a step back to figure out how the special effects are done. Is it CGI? Is it makeup? It’s intriguing, and figuring out the effect gives the person a sense of satisfaction.

Maybe it’s just schadenfreude.


It turns out the call was coming from inside the house!

Whatever the reason for society’s fascination with horror, being scared, and (often) the gory, one thing is for sure: It makes for a great business model.

How else do you think horror movie franchises continue to survive? Why else would the works of Lovecraft still be held up in such high esteem?

So how do you get in on the action?

Well, you could work really hard to create a great horror novel or screenplay and then hope it succeeds commercially.

Or, and this is far more common, you play on people’s fears to help you sell whatever product you’re currently touting. It works! Just look at the nightly news. How many times have you tuned in to the news at eleven because at nine you saw an ad that told you “It’s common, you probably have some in your house right now and it could kill you. Tune in at eleven for details!

Another good example of this is the household cleaning product. The commercial talks all about germs and mold and fungus creeping in and harming a family and then tells the viewer how using that specific cleaning product kills all of that stuff dead and makes your home a clean and safe place to live.

It sounds like a jerk move, but it’s how you sell your products. You talk about the problems that your product will solve. Or you come up with a product to solve a problem or assuage a societal fear. If you can find a way to help people feel safer, you’ll make plenty of dough.

Erin Steiner writes primarily about small business topics like Spokeo removal but also likes to spend some time splashing in the pop culture pool as well.

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