A self-published business management book written by an Omaha native and longtime Bookworm customer that’s offered exclusively through that bookstore since 2008 has been its topselling book for more than two years. Approximately 8,000 copies of Pleased But Not Satisfied by David Sokol have been sold to date – many of them to customers from all over the world through the store’s Web site.
In comparison, the Bookworm’s second bestselling title is The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which has sold approximately 800 copies since its February 2009 publication. “It’s because of who the author is that the book is a bestseller,” insisted Beth Black, co-owner of the Bookworm. Sokol is the chairman of MidAmerican Energy Holdings, one of mega-corporation Berkshire Hathaway’s most important subsidiaries. If – even though Pleased But Not Satisfied is his only published work – Sokol’s name sounds familiar to some book people, it might be because speculation has been building that Sokol may become Berkshire Hathaway’s next chairman and CEO, succeeding Warren Buffett, 80, the world’s third wealthiest man as of 2010.
In Pleased But Not Satisfied, Sokol explains his philosophy of adhering to the core basics of business management in order to create long-term value in any enterprise. The book’s preface is written by Walter Scott, Jr., former CEO of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc, and the foreword by Buffett.
The 129-page book retails for $19.95, with the profits going to Sokol’s MidAmerican Energy Foundation, established in 1999 after Sokol’s teenage son died of cancer. The charitable foundation supports educational, arts, and cultural organizations in the communities where MidAmerican Energy maintains operations. The Bookworm buys copies at a short 30% discount, store manager Diana Abbott explained, so that the foundation can make “significantly more” of a profit than they would if the store asked for the standard 40%-45% discount. “It’s karma,” Abbott explained, “It’s a not-for-profit book, and we’re being offered it exclusively. We’d rather the foundation get more money.”
While Pleased has always sold at a steady clip since the Bookworm started carrying it more than two years ago, sales inevitably spike during the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, held the first weekend in May each year, when 40,000 people descend upon downtown Omaha. The Bookworm sells the book offsite, at a temporary bookstore set up for shareholders in Omaha’s convention center, where they also sell a selection of other titles.
“We cannot sell anything down there that Buffett has not approved first,” Black said, explaining that a number of the other titles made available in the temporary bookstore that weekend were written by Berkshire Hathaway executives, some of which are also self-published. Besides the author’s reputation as a savvy businessman and leader, Pleased outsells the other books by Berkshire Hathaway insiders, Black explained, because “its message is simple enough” for handselling to store customers who have no ties to the corporation, as well as those who aren’t looking to buy a business management book.
Web sales of Pleased shot up this past August, after Fortune magazine published a profile of Sokol in its Aug. 2 issue, which included a paragraph describing his book; 3,000 copies of the title were sold in that month alone to customers all over the world. “Fed Ex called, and asked us what we were doing; some days there were 100 packages going out,” Black said. “People were ordering multiple copies, up to 10 copies at a time.” Noting that store sales in general that month already were strong, up 15%-20% from the previous year, Black called the boost provided by the sales of Pleased as “frosting on the cake.”
“It wasn’t even meant to be a book,” Black pointed out about her store’s top moneymaker, explaining that Pleased was originally an oral presentation made by Sokol to upper-level managers at Berkshire Hathaway. “Buffett asked him to publish it and make it available to shareholders.” Buffett, an Omaha resident, is “a huge believer in books and reading,” Black said of her store’s most famous customer.