Things moved around a bit, so let me orient everyone.
- I am Todd Sattersten.
- You are on the new website for Bard Press, where I serve as publisher.
- You are reading a new research note on the state of the business and self-help book publishing. You can read my past reports from March 20th, April 6th, and May 22nd.
Important! – Going forward all my book related writing, research and recommendations will be here at bardpress.com. If you would like emails when I post new work, subscribe for updates at the bottom of the page.
One more note: when I make sales comparisons below, the base time period is Feb 1st through March 15th, the last six week of normality, and the period from the most recent six weeks of June 1st through July 15th.
1. The market has stabilized
Sales in the business and self-help genres have largely stabilized over the last ten weeks. Self-help is selling at a similar rate to what it was before COVID-19 and is matching the sales level seen back into last year. Business books have also stabilized but the market continues to be down 20% versus pre-COVID month earlier this year.
With a newly stabilized market, I was interested whether there were any titles that have taken advantage of differing interests and felt need.
Personal finance and investing books are the titles that are thriving right now in the business category. That is not surprising. So many people are working with less (or no) income and trying to figure out what to do. The breakout titles range from long time bestsellers like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I Will Teach You To Be Rich and The Intelligent Investor to more speculative approaches like The Complete Penny Stock Course and How to Day Trade for A Living.
As a single title, Atomic Habits by James Clear is a standout book in the post-COVID world. The book is selling 1500 copies more every week than it was in February and early March. Tim Ferris’ The 4 Hour-Workweek has also found some new legs, an interesting title to have new found growth, sitting somewhere between personal finance and personal productivity. Other business titles worth mentioning: Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, The Ride of A Lifetime by Bob Iger, The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday, Contagious by Jonah Berger, and Proximity Principle by Ken Coleman (the one career title in this group).
On the self-help side, it is a little more interesting looking at the winners because of the consistency of the market before and after the drop in March/April drop in sales. Books like You Are a Badass, Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck!, and Gifts of Imperfection continue to outperform selling 500-1000 more each week versus February. More interesting, might be the return to classic self-help with titles, like How To Win Friends and Influence People, Think and Grow Rich, and Robert Cialindi’s Influence. Self-help also gets a seasonal bump from late April through June with books serving as graduation gifts. You can see that in the sales bumps in books like Make Your Bed and The Last Lecture.
With the market down 20%, you also find that eight out of ten business books have less sales than they did in March. Two out of three self-help titles sell less today than four months ago. The reasons for lower sales have not changed:
- Retail store foot traffic from big box to airports is still heavily impacted and Amazon is not making up the difference.
- Events and conferences are still almost non-existent (but many are attempting virtual substitutes).
- Businesses are cutting back expenses.
Even with those above factors, I am still surprised by the big sales drops in books like StrengthsFinder 2.0, Five Dysfunctions of A Team, and Emotional Intelligence 2.0. You will still find these books on the bestseller list and even in the Top 10, but understand these books are selling half as many copies as they were three months ago.
There is an open question about whether right now is a good time to launch a new title. When COVID-19 hit, many publishers chose to push the launch of their books into the latter months of the year.
The biggest launches since March include:
- Traffic Secrets – Russell Brunson’s latest book on internet marketing launched at the end of March, but has really taken off in the last four weeks. In that time, it has moved the most copies of any business book launched since March.
- Joy At Work – Marie Kondo with collaborator Scott Sonenshein kept their launch in early April. They had good sales at the launch and steady more modest sales in the last month.
- Reprogramming the American Dream – From Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer, the book launched well in early April and has drastically fallen off since then.
- The Buddha and The Badass – Vishen Lakhiani’s title on bringing spirituality to the workplace launched in June and has been selling well.
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – There is a new 30th Anniversary edition of the classic and sales have been good since the mid-May launch. Interestingly, the current 25th anniversary edition is still on sale and selling in comparable numbers to the new edition (see more below on habits)
- Ask For More by Alexandra Carter, Inclusify by Stefanie Johnson, The Vision Driven Leader by Michael Hyatt, Money Tree by Chris Guillibeau and The Garden by Jon Gordon round out the top ten launches since COVID-19.
I don’t have any hard data on this next conjecture, but I would bet that in normal times, we would see more than ten 10,000 copy business book launch in this key launch window between March and June.
5. Building New Habits
Habit books have been a huge category for business and self-help over the last ten years. Books can fall into either category, depending on where the publisher thinks it is best displayed online or in retail stores. Given the big interest in Atomic Habits right now, I thought it would be interesting to look at a wider group of books and how they are doing in the current environment:
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective Habits – with two editions— the 25th (from 2013 in self-help) and 30th Anniversary (from 2020 in business), the series is up 20%.
- The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone (2011, Business) – unchanged
- Willpower (2012, Self-Help) – up 7.3%
- The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (2011, Business) – up 25%
- Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin (2016, Self-Help) – down 28%
- Grit by Angela Duckworth (2016, Self-Help) – down 6%
- Make Your Bed (2017, Self-Help) – up 62% (with graduation gifting effect)
- Atomic Habits (2018, Business) – up 24%
- Tiny Habits (2020, Self-Help) – The book launched in January and is selling consistently each week.
You can read my review of habit books, including many of these titles, that I wrote for Medium’s Forge channel.
6. One More Thing I Noticed
Books in the career category are down more than overall business books (-25% vs -20%) and eight of the ten best selling titles in the career genre are down. I expected more activity in that space, given the number of people unemployed and the dramatic shifts we are seeing in the economy. I am wondering if there is a lack of felt need or an opportunity in the wide open.
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