It sounds like thekind of prescription you might find in a self-help book—a big change aimed at taking control and getting closer to those that matter most. So it's fitting that after years of steady sales growth, New Harbinger Publications, an Oakland, Calif.-based self-help, psychology and health publisher, has ended its long relationship with Publisher's Group West and taken on distribution of its own titles.
Sounding very much like many of the titles he publishes, New Harbinger cofounder and publisher Matthew McKay said, "self-distribution will give us a more direct relationship to the market, and we expect our sales to continue to increase."
Founded 30 years ago by McKay and Patrick Fanning, the house has a backlist of more than 300 titles and projects annual sales in 2003 of $5 million (a 9% increase). Launched in a bar, "like all great ventures," quipped McKay, the house began by publishing poetry, business and children's books before releasing the Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by McKay, Martha Davis and Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, which has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was first published in 1980. "We had found a niche," said McKay, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is also a New Harbinger author.
Specializing in books based on cognitive behavioral therapy—psychological self-help techniques that McKay said are based on proven research and clear therapeutic guidelines—New Harbinger titles offer step-by-step procedures for dealing with phobias, anxiety, anger, relationship conflict and a wide variety of depression-related psychological problems. "This is the foundation of our publishing. Using CBT, you can learn how to reprogram ways of looking at the world and change your responses," said McKay. "We offer step-by-step chapters showing what to do, and our books are based on the treatments that are proven to work. We look for real research to back up claims, and our books must be clear and accessible."
New Harbinger markets and sells its books directly to therapists and mental health professionals. The house distributes 200,000 copies of its direct mail catalogue, but McKay said 85% of its sales are made through the trade. New Harbinger has 31 employees, including six new hires prompted by its distribution change. The house publishes 40 books a year, and 80% of its sales come from the backlist. "Our books sell better the second year they are on sale," McKay said. Online sales are rising and represent about 12% of revenues.
The company's bestselling titles include The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne (1989, 500,000 copies in print); Self Esteem by McKay and Fanning (1987, 600,000 copies) and The Depression Workbook (1992, 200,000 copies). Titles coming this fall include Ending the Depression Cycle, The Rape Recovery Handbook and The Overcoming Bulimia Workbook.
"When we started publishing, we wanted to get away from the 'boy do I have a problem' and 'oh happy day' kind of book," said McKay. "We look for underserved populations, people who have a problem finding treatments that work. Our books offer concrete tools and life skills that will make a difference in people's lives."