Though the economy is still fragile, its recovery has been greeted with relief across the publishing world—a spot of indisputable good news for an industry where the consequences of even bright spots like the growth in e-book sales are endlessly debated. Nowhere is the economy's return to health more directly relevant than in the business management category.
We benefited from a small bump during the recession, as people were looking for information on what to do," says Adrian Zackheim, president and publisher of Penguin's Portfolio imprint. "But the up-cycle in the market is good news, and we're enjoying the recovery. This flood raises all boats."
As an indication of how business titles are performing overall, Rick Wolff, editor-in-chief and publisher for Grand Central's Business Plus line, points to the enthusiasm for two of the house's recent bestsellers, The Investment Answer by Daniel Goldie and Gordon Murray, and Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success by Joseph Grenny et al.
"As far as the future of this category is concerned, we couldn't be more bullish," Wolff says. "About a year ago, we expanded our list to add even more titles to Business Plus, and the response has been terrific." He also notes that the category isn't as dominated by "how-to" these days, with the marketplace for narrative business titles and first-person autobiographies continuing to expand.
If there's one thing every publisher in the category seems to agree on this year, it's that consumers are open to a wider range of business titles, while still wanting to explore the same core topics. Subjects such as leadership, execution, problem solving, and innovation are not going away, but they may often be packaged in a different way than in the past.
"We're still looking for timely, timeless books that help businesspeople solve real-world problems," says Harper Business publisher Hollis Heimbouch. "Like everyone else, businesspeople want to be entertained with good stories as well as educated by new research and insights."
The Competitive Edge
Business consumers are looking for tangible value in the books they purchase, in the form of concepts that will give them an edge in their own careers. Still, most publishers agree that to rack up big sales authors must have a strong base of supporters both online and from the corporate world, in addition to credentials and valuable content.
McGraw-Hill's business group publisher, Gary Krebs, agrees that platform is still extremely important to the category. He has seen this play out with a trio of "breakout successes" for the publisher this year—Stephen Key's One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work (Feb.); and Denny Strigl and Frank Swiatek's Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? Hard-Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results (Mar.). The house hopes to find similar success with October's The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW by Joseph Michelli, and November's Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome to Find Your Company's Next Competitive Edge by Andrea Kates.
"Every day leaders face new crises and pressures—from volatile markets to ever-changing industry dynamics," Krebs observes. "They are looking for answers and their teams are searching for purpose and vision. Content from executives and management experts who have those answers and a unique vision will create works that have high demand."
There is no shortage of answers or experts for consumers to choose from in this competitive market. Publishers must practice smart business strategy in positioning titles to stand out from the crowd. And it's a crowded season, filled with big titles and bigger names.
Noting that business book consumers are more demanding than ever, Heimbouch at HarperBusiness believes "the marketplace is less tolerant of pie-in-the-sky theories that aren't backed by real-world analysis or experience." Two forthcoming books that the publisher hopes will rise above the pack are the memorably titled Warren Buffet Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should, Too by the Motley Fool and LouAnn Lofton (June) and Escape Velocity: Free Your Company's Future from the Pull of the Past (Sept.) by business strategy consultant Geoffrey A. Moore.
The slate at Crown Business features Michael Raynor's The Innovator's Manifesto: Deliberate Disruption for Transformational Growth (Aug.); and Adrian J. Slywotzky and Kyle Weber's Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It (Oct.).
Business Plus has several big releases on the way. A noted expert on global financial trends, Stephen Leeb offers Red Alert: How China's Growing Prosperity Threatens the American Way of Life (Oct.), and Peter Bregman's popular blog posts for the Harvard Business Review served as the starting point for 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Sept.). And there's also—challenging Harper for most memorable title—professor and "Deadhead" Barry Barnes's Everything I Learned About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead: The Ten Most Innovative Lessons from a Long, Strange Trip (Nov.).
Portfolio's jam-packed list promises intriguing offerings from established bestsellers. Bob Lutz, former auto industry executive and author of Guts: The Seven Laws of Business That Made Chrysler the World's Hottest Car Company, returns with Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business (June), providing an insider's look at how the shift from focusing on making an excellent product to "analysis-paralysis" led to the industry's crisis. And in October the publisher has two high-profile releases: journalist George Anders offers The Rare Find: Spotting Brilliance Before Everyone Else, and Dan Roam has Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don't Work, explaining the power of visualization.
According to Zackheim, the list showcases the publisher's core belief about what business readers want: more narrative than the traditional how-to. "We've made our business on the precept that readers are interested in being exposed to new things and being challenged. "
The business publishing program at Free Press also brings an updated take on category staples, with such upcoming releases as Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders: The Three Essential Principles You Need to Become an Extraordinary Leader by leadership expert Rajeev Peshawaria (May); Plan B: The Art of Making Things Happen by David Murray (Sept.); and Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg D. Link's Smart Trust: How People, Companies, and Countries Are Prospering from High Trust in a Low Trust World (Dec.).
"Evergreen topics like leadership, execution, and strategy always do well, but the types of those books may have changed," says editor-in-chief Dominick Anfuso, who expects high yields from this year's crop. Free Press is also excited about the as-yet-untitled book on leadership by former CEO and current Morgan Stanley board chairman John Mack, which has been delayed until next year.
There are still publishers that target niche audiences rather than the general business reader. Skyhorse, for example, strives to provide "entertaining, accessible" business titles with a "clear, definable audience," says associate publisher Bill Wolfsthal. The tactic is exemplified by such titles as Marin Levin's All I Know About Management I Learned from My Dog: The Real Story of Angel, a Rescued Golden Retriever, Who Inspired the New Four Golden Rules of Management (Apr.), and Leadership and Training for the Fight: A Few Thoughts on Leadership and Training from a Former Special Operations Soldier by Paul Howe (July).
At Wiley's Jossey-Bass imprint, the goal these days is to strike a balance between meeting the expectations for print sales while continuing to grow digital ones. The publisher's most anticipated titles for fall are Claire Diaz-Ortiz's Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time (Aug.); Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen's Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World (Oct.); and Gary Hamel's What Matters Now: How to Future-Proof Your Company and Other Essential Advice from the World's Leading Authority on Management (Nov.). Earlier this month, Jossey-Bass also released its first enhanced e-book, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, Second Edition by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, including video of business leaders.
At the same time, the publisher has been working to develop more enhanced content ideas and apps for mobile devices, and expects its Jossey-Bass Leadership Advisor app to be available within a few months. Executive editor Susan Williams says, "E-book sales are increasing at higher and higher rates, showing that this format is becoming a preference for business readers."
Like Jossey-Bass, most publishers are hard at work figuring out how to add increased value to their offerings in the ever-changing world of e-books.
So far, fiction has been the biggest seller by far in the digital realm, and Portfolio's Zackheim doesn't see that changing anytime soon. "The factors that drive fiction sales are not the same for business books," he says. "The price is less, and it's more of a hardcover category to begin with." He believes that many consumers still want business books on the shelves of their offices, where people can see what they've read and can easily refer to. Heimbouch at HarperBusiness concurs: "We've seen growth in e-books for business titles, but not the extremes that have been reported with genre fiction, for instance."