Having become huge bestsellers in the U.S., Marie Kondo’s two blockbusters—The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy—are now selling in big numbers in overseas markets.
In Italy, the two titles’ combined sales of more than 400,000 copies are “the most unusual performance for a Japanese nonfiction author,” said editorial director Marcella Meciani, of Milan-based Vallardi. Over in Spain, the first Kondo title has sold upward of 100,000 copies, prompting editor Gonzalo Albert at Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial to consider having a 50,000-copy first printing for the soon-to-be-launched Spark Joy. Erwin Koning, commissioning editor of Amsterdam-based A.W. Bruna, received a very short pitch from an agent (“I think we have a certified bestseller”), leading to a next-day preemptive offer for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which has sold about 60,000 copies in the Netherlands.
The fan base in these three countries started right at the publishing houses. Luigi Spagnol, Vallardi’s publisher, had a complete office makeover based on Kondo’s method, and the office, Meciani observed, “has been pristine ever since; he was the very first Marie Kondo fan in Italy.” For Albert of PRH, “a book about order as a concept that is linked to personal growth is profoundly logical and practical to me.” Meanwhile, Koning found that “the book is not just about decluttering the house, but also about one’s mind-set and life.” He added: “For instance, does attending a neighbor’s barbecue party spark joy? If not, why go? Since reading Marie’s books, I find myself asking that question to help make my joyful decisions.”
Kondo’s unexpected success (and fame) continues to surprise publishers. “There was never anything at this scale in Spain: a nonfiction title from Japan that is #1 on the bestseller list for a whole year and outsells any other title in that category,” said Albert, who is amused by Ikea Spain’s campaign (with the slogan “It is not magic, it is order”) tagging on the book’s success.
For Meciani, who will launch a Christmas box set of the two Kondo titles, “the sales figures totally debunk our perception that there is only a niche market on books about Japan and anything Japanese in Italy.” Kondo initially visited Italy six months after the first title was launched, “when it was already a bestseller, largely due to word-of-mouth and massive media coverage, but her visit turned the book into a phenomenally long seller.”
In the Netherlands, writer and columnist Aaf Brandt Corstius’s extensive article in the country’s largest morning newspaper sparked the initial public discussion and interest on the Japanese lady with a sock obsession. “Then author and blogger Merel Wildschut’s articles in social media captured the younger set of audience for us,” Koning said, adding that the media storm reignited by the launch of Spark Joy eight months ago has reached even more readers.
Back in the U.S., Kondo’s first book, which was released almost two years ago, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 98 weeks, 68 of which it spent at #1, and Spark Joy has been on the same list for 26 weeks. Combined, the two have sold more than 2.85 million copies in the U.S.
Neil Gudovitz—of New York–based Gudovitz & Company Literary Agency, who began working on the Kondo titles after she had sold more than one million copies in Japan—said, “Aside from the book’s obvious charm and utility, I thought, if her ideas are so innovative and motivating for Japanese readers, just imagine how people in other markets will respond.” He added: “It never worried me that anybody would think the book is ‘too Japanese,’ and with very few exceptions, they haven’t. Marie’s books are bestsellers in the U.S. and U.K., and major European markets. She has made a huge cultural impact in markets such as Finland, Hungary, Israel, Norway, and Slovakia. Her titles are selling very well in places like Azerbaijan and Lebanon. What is apparent over the past two years is that socks are in distress everywhere—and Marie Kondo is coming to the rescue.”