Business management books have been dealt a serious blow by the current economy. The only consolation? They're not alone. “The recession is impacting sales across categories—and business management is no exception,” says McGraw-Hill group publisher Gary M. Krebs.
Actually, there is one other consolation: a recession may in fact increase the need for business books, or so publishers hope. Says Krebs, “We see a lot of opportunity in this climate in publishing books that help managers get through difficult times, present lessons learned from the economic crisis and offer insights into business sectors that will grow as a result of Obama's stimulus package.”
While there aren't many books that can be rushed through the cycle and brought out in reaction to the current recession, publishers are emphasizing titles that run counter to the growth of recent years. These range from the latest case study of companies from author/phenomenon Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (currently #1 on Amazon's list of bestselling management books and #14 on PW's nonfiction list), to the Broadway Business title Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today by Susan Scott, which rejects formerly accepted business practices such as keeping feedback anonymous, or McGraw-Hill's own Leading After a Layoff: Reignite Your Team's Productivity... Quickly! by Ray Salemi.
William Shinker, publisher of Gotham and Avery Books, takes a long view and sees a cycle repeating itself: “Every time there are upheavals in the U.S. economy, there are authors who emerge as the people who explain to business readers and the general public what is going on. For example, in the 1980s, when technology was changing everything, I was working at Warner Books and was involved in acquiring and marketing two books that became huge bestsellers: John Naisbitt's Megatrends and the paperback of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman's In Search of Excellence. Then, in the early 1990s, when I was the publisher of HarperCollins and HarperBusiness, we published two books that gave Americans a road map to how they should run their businesses: Michael Hammer and James Champy's Reengineering the Corporation and Jim Collins's first book, Built to Last. Each of these books became totems of their era. Today we find ourselves in a worldwide recession, and I believe new voices will emerge.” One contender is the September Gotham title Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change by Jeremy Gutsche (whose Web site, Trendhunter.com, attracts eight million views a month).
Phil Revzin, senior editor at St. Martin's, says, “The successful books and successful proposals all offer something very tangible for beaten-down business people. But no wailing. Everyone knows business is bad, and they're looking for very specific ideas, stories or a spark that can help them start a new business or revive an old one.” One such option is strengthening an international presence, as suggested by Bruce Alan Johnson and R. William Ayres in Carry a Chicken in Your Lap: Or Whatever It Takes to Globalize Your Business.
Amacom executive editor Ellen Kadin says, “Most companies manage using two sets of rules: the playbook they use for better times and the one they adopt in anticipation of—or in response to—economic downturns. But Philip Kotler and John Caslione, the authors of Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in the Age of Turbulence, point out that when economic turbulence hits, traditional strategy is worthless, and even skilled business leaders tend to make bad management mistakes.” Kadin notes that not only does Chaotics have a global message but it seems to have global appeal as well: translation rights have already sold in 22 languages.
Forthcoming Sourcebooks titles include The Golden Rules for Managers: 119 Incredible Lessons for Leadership Success. “The recession has definitely hurt sales in the business category and has affected initial store buys for new titles,” says Peter Lynch, editorial manager, trade. “In general, we're seeing a decrease in the number of titles carried and more focus on bestselling titles and authors. Recession-themed books are selling strongly.”
Rick Wolff, executive editor of Grand Central and publisher and editor-in-chief of the house's Business Plus imprint, says, “There has been a considerable downturn in business books, not only over the last four or five years but in recent months. Business books as a genre have been suffering because of the recession, and I do think that's going to continue on a little bit longer. I predict a turnaround by the end of summer.”
In response, Business Plus is taking a two-pronged approach, reissuing classics (see sidebar, p. 23) from the backlist and hunting for promising new directions. Wolff points to Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone by Mitch Joel on business usage of social networking sites (according to Wolff, “If Facebook were a nation, it would be the sixth largest nation in the world”) as a title with potential. Perseus is also turning to backlist, offering a third edition of William Bridges's Managing Transitions this fall—the first two editions have sold over 400,000 copies.
Another recession-ready title is Geoff Colvin's The Upside of the Downturn: Ten Management Strategies to Prevail in the Recession and Thrive in the Aftermath. Colvin is senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, and when an article by him on how to thrive in the downturn appeared in the magazine in January, Portfolio pounced on it, says president and publisher Adrian Zackheim.
Zackheim echoes the wisdom proffered by many of the titles in this category when he points out that even a recession offers opportunities for some. Indeed, Zackheim sounds almost giddy about the downturn when he says, “The fun of this is that change is so constant. The ideas that we had about what to do that were relevant last year are not relevant this year. That's the reason we have to publish new books! Sometimes the changing situation is downright scary, but then people need our books all the more.”