Tami Simon, the founder and president of Sounds True Publishing, had just dropped out of Swarthmore College’s religious studies department when she visited India and discovered meditation in 1984. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that at 21, she was “still pretty lost” when she began interviewing spiritual teachers in Boulder, Colo. later that year.
“I was hosting a public radio show as a volunteer and started recording my interviews and selling cassette copies,” she says. After receiving an inheritance, one of the teachers Simon was interviewing recommended that she invest it in herself. “His treatment of me was kind of a granting of permission,” she says. “I heard three words—disseminate spiritual wisdom—and I wanted to start with audio as the way.”
Today, disseminating spiritual wisdom remains the guiding principle behind Sounds True, which published its first book in 2000 and officially launched its line of books in 2004. With 120 employees, Sounds True publishes around 50 books a year and has over 1,000 backlist audio titles and 300 book titles.
In what Simon calls her crowning accomplishment, Sounds True is able to fulfill its mission “to create real, in-depth transformation for the people who touch our products,” while also reflecting traditional values in the workplace and growing its sales year after year. “I say, ‘no margin, no mission,’” Simon tells PW. “And we’re actually doing this: our business is sweet internally, influential externally, and it generates cash.”
Over the course of the past 34 years in publishing, including Sounds True's bestsellers from authors such as Jack Kornfield, Pema Chödrön, and Thich Nhat Hanh, Simon says she has observed the “secularization” of traditional religions as well as a shift in how readers think about spirituality. “People are seeing a break down in wanting to invest in traditional religions in the same way they used to,” she says. “Humans long for meaning, and questions we ask like what happens when we die, how do I live fully and love fully, and how can I bring my gifts to the world—those don’t go away, and if we’re not getting answers through affiliating with religions, we’re searching through books and by finding teachers and helpers.”
Additionally, recent scientific developments related to meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude have impacted readers, according to Simon. “Evidence from neuroscience that contemplative practices are beneficial at a level of brain functioning has opened minds to the various kinds of practices—there is science behind it,” she says.
And even more recently, Simon has noticed a change in readers’ goals surrounding spirituality. “People want their spiritual journey to be relevant to social concerns and the state of the world, not just an individual endeavor,” she says. As an example, Simon points to Seane Corn’s Revolution of the Soul (Sept. 3), which “emphasizes the work of yoga, including the thighs and abs work, but really, the true work of yoga is the transformation of society,” she says.
Meanwhile, Sounds True remains committed to its audio roots, and its audio backlist continues to generate strong sales. “Brené Brown’s Power of Vulnerability sells more now than when it was first published,” says Simon. “So do audiobooks by Jack Kornfield and Eckhart Tolle—spiritual teachings age in a positive way.” Digital products, including audiobooks, audio learning courses, and music, account for 30% of Sounds True's trade sales revenue.
Also, Sounds True’s children’s books have surpassed all expectations, according to Simon, and a new distribution agreement with Macmillan, which started in May, has led to several new markets for the press. “There are all kinds of places our books previously never sold—gift, children’s, and airport stores, mass markets like Target—and it’s an exciting evolution for us, in our little world,” says Simon.
In October, Sounds True will publish Thriving As an Empath by Judith Orloff, the author of Sounds True’s bestselling The Empath’s Survival Guide (2017). And looking further ahead to 2020, the press will release The Wim Hof Method, which explores teachings by the Dutch extreme athlete known as the “Ice Man” for his record-breaking endurance of cold temperatures, as well as a new memoir by prolific author and spirituality teacher Ram Dass.
“I don’t see the popularity of books in the spirituality category going away,” says Simon. “If you stay true to what is deeply impactful to you and compelling to you, it will be for other people too, and financial success will follow.”