I’ve Been Thinking…#20

A Miscellany About September Days

Fall has arrived and September has been this deep mix of discovery and rediscovery.

I took my first business trip and had the first client visit since the pandemic started. I officially started the next chapter of Bard Press, while moving all of our distribution to our new partner at Two Rivers. Schools reopened with my daughter Alex in eighth grade, my son Zach running cross-country for the first time in his junior year of high school, and my oldest son Ethan starting college. My wife’s practice at Silver Mountain Health is finding new energy. 

I went to the movie theatre with Ethan to see Shang-Chi.  I sat for a retreat for the first time since my shuso term. I went to a live(!) concert with my friend April, out in a farm field under an old oak tree, and listened to Colin Meloy sing Decemberists ballads.

Colin Meloy at Topaz Farms – September 23, 2021

“Equinox is a time of change. We go from light to dark. It’s still dry, yet there is a coolness in the air. We still have bright skies, but the angle of light changes. A shift from external to internal happens. The school year starts, and people begin things and start to knuckle down and get serious. People make new intentions[…]”

This is a passage from You Are Still Here: Zen Teachings of Kyogen Carlson. Kyogen co-founded Dharma Rain Zen Center, the sangha I have practiced with here in Portland for the last 11 years. Kyogen died seven years ago this month. You Are Still Here is a new book that collects his teachings. It was edited by his student and my teacher Sallie Jiko Tisdale. The book is organized by seasons and starts with fall.

You Are Still Here: Zen Teachings of Kyogen Carlson

I can feel that autumnal shift inward that Kyogen speaks of, tugging at me. That tension between “knowing” and “figuring out” that feels strong in our second fall of the pandemic.

Writing this was hard. At one point, I wasn’t sure I had anything to write. There was no strong theme or encompassing headline that normally lead me forward.

There is a thread in the next three stories…maybe…maybe not…or maybe I will just see it later.


1.

One corner of our yard is connected to an undeveloped section of land, city property for a road that wasn’t built. The prior owners had a length of fence that tried to wall off our side yard from the unmaintained wilds. That fence fell down a few years ago and we never replaced it. Eyeing that patch each day, with its few tall trees and covered in English ivy and blackberry vines, we slowly felt more responsible for it and those trees. It took two years to really tame that section of land and it takes a couple of Saturdays each year to keep it maintained.

The trees on that small patch of land have an interesting story that I didn’t really know until a few weeks ago. It started when a friend in Portland posted a picture of a newly planted tree in their local park in Montavilla. It wasn’t the picture that caught my attention, but rather the comments below the image. 

In 1939, a new fossil was found for a type of redwoods that had never been seen before.  A few years later, botanists unexpectedly found a grove of these sequoias living in the central Sichuan region of China, after believing that this species has been extinct for millions of years. Fossils records show that, at one point, these redwoods were widespread and prolific across the all of the North Hemisphere. In China, these trees are known as “water fir” because they tend to grow in low lying areas near rivers and streams. Wikipedia claims the tree’s rediscovery as the greatest botany find of the 20th century. 

After the trip down the lost redwood rabbit hole, I returned to the photos and left in greater awe—the two trees growing at the base of our driveway were these same types of redwoods. I don’t know how long they have been here, but they stand almost 40 feet tall. Botanists think they might be able to grow to 200 feet, but maybe more. they are not sure because all of the living trees are still young by redwood standards.

Our house is built into a steep hill and the water runoff makes it a perfect spot for them. What makes Dawn redwoods, as they are known in the West, unique among redwoods is they are deciduous trees.  These redwoods shed their leaves each fall and are the only living redwood species to do that. And they are beautiful, they look like a species of tree you’d find in a magical elven forest. The picture below isn’t from our yard but better show them in their full beauty.

Some of the first Dawn redwoods planted outside China were grown in Hoyt Arboretum here in Portland. Those trees were the first to produce seed cones on US soil. In 2005, the Oregon legislature designated Metasequoia as the official state fossil, because so many can be found in the eastern part of the state. 

Dawn redwoods have become popular again and are now cultivated all over the world.  Crescent Ridge New Dawn Redwood Preserve is establishing a 50 acre park as the only redwood grove in the eastern United States. They plan to open in 2035 with 5000 redwoods.

I don’t know if I can explain it, but all of this makes it feel a little more magical that we have these redwoods in our neighborhood.

Dawn Sequoia (Metasequoia)

For more, read the article Metasequoia Mystery by Kyna Rubin


2.

In 2015, my wife gave me a fleece pullover for the holidays. She bought it during a closeout sale earlier in the fall and I immediately fell in love with it. So comfortable. Smooth exterior that didn’t pill easily. Formal enough for Pacific Northwest business casual and warm enough to wear almost year around. The garment was sewn in panels to allow for lots of movement without pulling or tugging at the sleeves or bottom. And the Patagonia Piton Pullover in ‘Medium’ fit me like a glove.

I loved it so much I started looking for another one, but they were already discontinued. The chase started…and quickly got a little out of control.  I set-up alerts on eBay for the Piton Pullover. The fleeces are rarely listed at Pitons, because nowhere on the tags is it named as such. You just have to search through listings and identify them visually.

I wrote Patagonia to get more information. They sent me catalog images and told me those fleeces were only available for two seasons—Fall 2012 and Fall 2013.  There were nine colorways produced. Black appeared in the line-up both years. The first season had wonderful colors like Red Delicious, Bandana Blue, Dill, and Forge Grey. The second year arrived more reserved with Purple, Nickel, Graphite Navy, and an exception, Electric Orange.

I looked into following year’s style, the Piton Hybrid. It was, of course, inferior with its lightly patterned fabric and a vertical zippered chest pocket. The Hybrid also came in hoody, vest and jacket editions. Patagonia followed with Synchilla, R1 and Better Sweater and they just didn’t seem the same. Besides Ebay, I expanded my search to Patagonia’s own Worn Wear website and, more recently, Poshmark to find these hard to find items. 

All told, I now own fourteen different versions of the Patagonia Piton, including the complete line of the original nine colorways, one color that isn’t in the standard line but the bear official style number STY47710 (I still don’t know where it came from), and four of the not-actually-inferior Hybrid editions.  

This is the time of year those fleeces go into heavy rotation, as the air cools and the rains gather in Portland. I know it is a little obsessive to have collected all of them. The chase was fun though. And we live in a world that moves a little too fast to the next thing. For a while, I thought it was just me getting old and ornery, but companies can’t seem to settle anymore when they have found the right/best way to make something. It was nice to read and feel validated by Nick Heil and his search to find the best truck of all time

The real truth is that these fleeces fit well, fit well into my life and they make me happy. I don’t need much more validation than that.


3.

The first time I heard Modern Skirts was on a Paste Magazine Sampler in 2006. I still miss those samplers and the amazing pipeline they were to amazing music in the 00’s. The track on that sampler was for their Catalogue of Generous Men album that the band had just released. For me, it lives as a rare album that I can be played from top to bottom and every song works with their pop hooks, twangy electric guitar, bar piano, and Beach Boys harmonies. 

The track I have returned to most often is the seventh on the album—September Days. It was one of the first tracks the band wrote together. The song opens with a sparkling piano riff that invokes a late summer afternoon when it’s still warm and the sun is low in the sky. The lyrics are melancholy—”Everything changes and green turns to brown in your eyes.” It dances with both memory and loss, ending with horns that celebrate “the nicest days of the year”.

In 2010, the band crowdfunded a new album on Kickstarter. One of the rewards for backers was an opportunity for fans to choose a song and the band would make a unique recording of it. I asked them to do an acoustic version of September Days. The stripped down version is a touch slower and feels like an even better tempo for the song. I’ll post both of them here for your enjoyment.

September Days by Modern Skirts on Spotify

September Days (Acoustic Kickstarter Reward) by Modern Skirts

September Days are the nicest days of the year.

I’ve Been Thinking… #19

Thinking and walking is what I have been doing…

To stay sane over the last 16 months, I started walking every day. Our house sits on one of the walking trails in southwest Portland and, not far, there is a small park that contains a tree-filled ravine. Round trip, the walk is about one and a quarter miles along a hilly path. Most days, someone joins me. Some days, I walk alone. Some Saturdays, we’d get ambitious. One weekend, it was a drive out to Klickitat Trail in Washington. A few weeks ago, we left early in the morning to explore Ecola State Park on the Oregon coast during one of the lowest tides of the year. All the walks made the world seem a little bigger. 

As the current shift in the US around COVID, I have labored to keep the walking habit and get out even more. There is a larger network of urban trails that run through our city quadrant. The trails connect parks, paths through side yards, and neighborhood streets. The trails are marked with brown signs with a hiker and the trail number. You see them sometimes if you pay close attention driving through a neighborhood or walking through a larger park. 

I decided to walk all of the SW Trails this summer. My son Zach took up the challenge with me. They range between 4 and 10 miles in length with 500 to 1000 feet of elevation change.

We walked on Saturday mornings when it is cool and the sun is low in the sky. We run into people on various sections of hikes but we have yet to cross paths with someone truly hiking the trail we are on. So far, we’ve walked Trails 3, 4, 5, and 7. Trail 1 is next and we’ll end with Trail 6  that runs from Goose Hollow in downtown Portland, south 10.6 miles, to Lake Oswego. 

Changes at Bard Press

There has been a lot going on behind the scenes at Bard Press over the last several months. It was the kind of work that was interesting and important but couldn’t talk about publicly until recently.  

The first piece was our decision to move our sales and distribution to Two Rivers, a part of Ingram Publisher Services, the second largest book distributor in the US. We’ll be distributed alongside Harvard Business Review Press, Plata Publishing, the publisher of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The New Press, Spiegel & Grau, and Molly Stern’s new publishing house Zando.    

We have also been working on the future of Bard Press itself.  In addition to my current role as publisher, I will become the owner and operator of Bard Press in September. We’ll continue to work with all the authors that we have published over the last 25 years and explore new ways to expand the reach of our amazing backlist. I will be announcing new projects in these coming months with our existing authors and new authors to our publishing house.

I am so happy to have reached this point and feel honored to have the opportunity to continue the tradition of publishing amazing books at Bard Press.

2021 Mid-Year Business Book Publishing Review

I mentioned before that most of my writing on book publishing takes place over on the Bard Press website now. Since my last newsletter, I have posted a 2021 Mid-Year Review for the world of business book publishing. 

  1. This year has been a good one for book publishing, with the industry up 21% year-to-date.
  2. Atomic Habits by James Clear is the fastest book to reach a million copies in print sales.
  3. Adam Grant’s Think Again is the breakout business book of 2021, with over 200K copies sold.
  4. Jon Gordon, the author of over twenty five books, managed publish FOUR more in the last 12 months.
  5. If you wanted to read books about Amazon, rather than buy books from Amazon, there has never been a better time. I count six new books published in the last six months.
  6. And four books you might have missed – the new and expanded edition of Robert Cialdini’s Influence, the hardcover edition of The Psychology of Money, The Scout Mindset, and Ask Iwata, the collected writings of the former CEO of Nintendo.

The more detailed version is posted on the Bard Press website.

Reading/Watching/Listening

  • Watched the Season One of For All Mankind on Apple TV. I don’t know why this show isn’t getting more love. Ronald Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame, is helming the series and it is a historical reimagining of the Space Race. So good. We are starting Season Two and reports are that a third season has been ordered.
  • We have also been watching Marvel on Disney+. I feel like each series has been better than the prior one. Loki has been my favorite so far. Falcon Captain America and the Winter Soldier was really good and pushed hard on race like nothing before in the MCU. WandaVision was just OK for me, with the rolling sitcom treatment. Last weekend, we watched Black Widow through their Premier Access. The movie was good with its focus on “family” and gave more insight into what made Natasha a complicated character, both morally and with her fame as an Avenger.
  • I also want to share some love for Raya and the Last Dragon from Disney and Shadow and Bone on Netflix. I have also enjoyed The Playbook on Netflix, which interviews successful sport coaches about the work they do to prepare their players for games.
  • There are SO many books in my To Read pile. I have almost 40 books that I purchased and another 15 books that are checked out from the library.  It’s so bad that I have started a list of “Books I Will Not Read in 2021.” My Not To Read list is a nod to the fact that many of these books caught my attention and I need to record them somewhere, while acknowledging there is no way I will get through all of them.
  • Right now, I am reading The Bhagavad Gita, Leadership On The Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksky  and just started Michael Lewis’ pandemic book The Premonition.
  • My music playlist has been all over the place lately. New releases I would point you toward would be Summer Bird by The National Parks, Nathan Evans’ version of Wellerman (the TikTok remix is amazing), and If Ever by Paula Fuga with Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.

More soon. Take care of yourselves. -T

I’ve Been Thinking… – #18

I have been thinking about Amazon.

1.

This weekend, I was on the retailer’s website, searching for the product page for The ONE Thing. I had gotten advice earlier in the week that there was real value for publishers to add certain elements to the page, because Amazon weighed the inclusion of those elements in their search algorithm. When the page loaded, I noticed a special offer – buy two, save 50% on 1. The marketing copy was a little awkward, but it’s always great to see a Bard Press title included in a promotion like that. I clicked through to see what other titles were included in the promotion, and the results showed 1000 business titles to choose from, along with other items in office products, electronics and home improvement.

The promotion instructions said to put two participating products in your shopping cart and the discount would be automatically added.  I choose Humor, Seriously by Jennifer Aaker and the new edition of Robert Cialinidi’s Influence. In the shopping cart, I could see the promotion reduced the two books’ cost by $9.15. I clicked the ‘Place your order” button and was informed the books will be here tomorrow. I can share the link to the promotion, so you can see what they offered, but the promotion has ended. 

Amazon is always running experiments. Also this weekend, I researched or ran across:

  • A front list title offered for 80% off the retail price – that’s crazy low for a new book. 
  • A book format option called “Print on Demand (Hardcover)” – why call it out?
  • Made for You Custom T-shirt– download the app, take pictures for measurements, and order your custom made shirt
  • They are crowdfunding new products through their Build It program with Day 1 Editions.
  • Prime Wardrobe will pick out clothes for you for a five dollar styling fee and each month send you a selection to choose from – yes, I am going to try it.

2.

For the company that got its start selling books, there have been an amazing number of books written about it in the last two years. Amazon, Think Like Amazon, and Bezonomics are among the books that predate the pandemic. In the last six months the pace has quickened. 

Invent & Wander, edited by Walter Isaacson is a collection of Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letters, speeches, and interviews. Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis, which came out in March, is described as a “a literary investigation of the America that falls within that company’s growing shadow.” Working Backwards is the business book treatment of leadership principles and cultural values by former Amazon executives Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.  And this week Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound is being released, the sequel to the BusinessWeek reporter’s 2013 book The Everything Store.

If you need more to read, you could subscribe to Tim Carmody’s newsletter Amazon Chronicles by or What Did Amazon Do This Week? written by Paul Armstrong.

3.

Six weeks ago, my daughter and I opened a seller account on Amazon. She wanted a way to earn money and I needed to recover floor space in my office from the overflowing piles of books. Of course, as a book publisher, I was also interested to see if I could learn anything about the used book market by dipping my toe in as a seller.

We did some research before we started and checked what the internet had to say about our new venture.  Non-fiction sells better than fiction. Books with higher sales ranks sell faster, with #500,000 being the lower limit if you want to sell something fast.  We found all of that to be true.

Since the first of April, we’ve shipped over 80 orders and sold almost $1500 in books. Like anything, we had to learn the system. Fees and shipping mean you can’t sell for less than eight or nine dollars. You can buy shipping from Amazon which is great, but they will only sell you shipping methods that meet the promised delivery times. Rather than economical media USPS media mail, you can get locked into Priority Express. Some adjustments to the lead times on our account reduced the need for faster shipping and the higher costs.

I learned that Amazon’s marketplace is robust. We sold books ranging from $6 to $100. Sellers are heavily competing on price—watching each other closely and adjusting continuously. Our buyers tended to live in populous states like New York, Florida, California, and Michigan. We sold through two-thirds of the books we listed in these last six weeks. We also have an equal number of books that we didn’t list because there was too much inventory or the price was too low for it to make sense for us.

4.

I just got done watching The Planets, a 2019 documentary series from NOVA and BBC Earth. I’d started watching it on Amazon Prime during one of the free windows to subscription content. It was so good I spent the $9.99 to buy the series outright. The five episodes were outstanding. My wife and I kept saying “How did we not know that?” The series pulled together 20 years of findings into a fun and informative highlight reel of scientific discovery. Interviews with NASA project managers and scientists were weaved together with imagery and animation from a wide variety of missions to other planets. Loved it.

And of course, if I am talking about Prime, I have to mention The Expanse. The series has been exclusive on Amazon Prime, since they brought the series back from near-death after the cancellation on the Scifi Channel. The Expanse is the best science fiction TV series since the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. They just finished the amazing fifth season and have started filming the sixth and final season of the series.

5.

Thanks for reading this month!

There was a big influx of new folks to the list over the last few months.  

If you are interested in hearing from me and what is going on in my life, you are in the right place.

If you are more interested in book publishing as an industry and my work at Bard Press, I suggest you go check out the Bard Press blog. You can also sign up for Bard Press email updates.

Collected Thoughts on Pricing

I have written extensively about pricing over the years and it seemed like a good idea to pull all of that material into one place with current links.

Pricing Pictures

This is a 10 page visual essay on how pricing can be employed many ways and involves decision beyond how much something costs. This essay is heavy on models and frameworks.

Fixed to Flexible

This is a longer essay I wrote about pricing that pulls together a set of ideas that are still relevant. From the introduction:

“Fixed has been replaced with flexible. Control of a product category, distribution channel or branding message no longer exists. While this is being heralded as a boon for customers, companies have been slower to adapt to the new terrain. Companies with multi-national presence and individuals with multitudes of projects both need to create a new set of strategies.”

Interview with Phil Libin

After I published Fixed to Flexible, Phil Libin, then CEO of Evernote, reached out to me to correct a bit of my math. I took the opportunity to interview him and capture some of the current thought of the time around freemium tactics and startups.

#YEARINREVIEW 2020

In 2010, Seth Godin asked people to make a list of what they shipped. I have been doing this exercise each year since then. You can see my past #YearInReview posts here. Given how easy it is to feel like 2020 was a lost year, I feel an activity like this is more important than ever.

  • Wrote an article for Forge on Medium about the best habit books to kick off the year.
  • And a follow-up on this blog about keynote habits.
  • Took a full year of Japanese classes at my local community college.
  • I started a meditation group on Insight Timer for my Zen Center.
  • I collected a set of Buddhist writings and published a book called When We Make This Path Our Own. The print run was 10 copies. The book was created for a trip we planned to take in April and had to cancel.
  • Created Right Now with Joy Stauber.
  • Stepped into the role of publisher at Bard Press.
    • Took over daily operations of the 25 year old press.
    • Launched a new visual brand for the press.
    • Launched a new website.
  • Wrote four research reports on the state of business book publishing after the market shifted in March.
  • Created The Nature Preserve, a seven game campaign expansion for Wingspan, with my wife Amy.
  • Spent a week solo in a cabin on Mount Hood that restored my soul.
  • Read 28 books.
  • Wrote eight personal newsletters under the “I’ve Been Thinking…” banner.
  • I wrote two 3000 word papers for a class at my Zen Center. The first paper was on my experience with engaging in Rinzai Zen practices. The second paper was on my experiences with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
  • I wrote a 2020 Best of Business Books essay for Marker at Medium, using a meta-analysis of the seven lists from media and retail outlets.

The Best Business Books of 2020

You might not believe it, but there were some great business books this year. And you probably missed them, distracted by the crazed year that was 2020.

Let me talk about it in two parts :

Part I

Like last year, I worked with Marker on Medium and did a meta-analysis of best of business book lists for 2020. In total, there were seven lists I looked at. They chose exactly 100 books this year. There were five books that were selected by three or more times by those lists.

  1. No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer – Selected by five of seven lists. Just a great book on the Netflix’s culture. Not sure everyone will agree with everything they do.
  2. No Filter by Sarah Frier – the best account of the rise of Instagram, on three lists including winning the Financial Times / McKinsey Business Book of The Year Award.
  3. Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson – Things are changing, lots of examples here. Appeared on three lists.
  4. If Then by Jill Lenore – The history of the first analytics company Simulatics and how their work still resonates today. The book appeared on three lists and was a longlist nominee for the National Book Award.
  5. Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan – Some books are written to explain a moment, other books arrive at the right moment. Uncharted is both. It was also selected three times and is my personal favorite of the whole year.

You can check out my whole article on Medium with additional links to interviews and excerpts from these books. I also have adapted versions on Instagram and Twitter.

Part II

There were three books on my list of personal favorites and there is some nice overlap with the meta-analysis. Here are longer reviews for each of them.

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

I remember being at a tech conference about six years ago and watching a set of speakers from Netflix. “No one approves our expense reports,” said one of the presenters. In a room full of corporate executives, there was an audible gasp. The speakers went on to say that no one approved the code they wrote either. Together, these two examples were meant to show that it wasn’t a question of policy or procedure. Netflix operates with a different culture.

No Rules Rules is the book that attempts to describe that culture. The book is written by two authors. The first author, to no surprise, is Reed Hastings, the co-founder and CEO of Netflix.  With Hastings, you get the direct transference of his beliefs and reasoning for why Netflix is organized and run the way it is. The second author is Erin Meyer, a business professor from INSEAD. Meyer serves two roles, one as provider of confirming research and another as the voice of Netflix’s employees. As a part of writing the book, Meyer interviewed hundreds of workers all over the world. This internating narration enhances both the traditional CEO book and standard business school thesis, as they respond to each other on the pages of the book.

Hastings says Netflix’s culture is based on three reinforcing principles. The first tenet is to build the best group of talent possible, because highly talented individuals make each other more effective. “Talent density” is increased by always evaluating if the company has the best people and by paying top of market salaries. Next, increase candor among those folks, because the highly talented love feedback that can make them better. To ensure effectiveness and no hurt feelings, Netflix trains everyone to give and receive feedback. And finally, you remove controls and trust people to do their best work. Hastings says each of these practices has challenges, but the benefits of each tenet multiples when enacted with the others.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Everything by BJ Fogg

If you looked at the business bookstore shelf any time in the last decade, you would have seen books on habits trying to crowd each other out. Novel scientific research provided new material to writers. The growth in the gig economy and work-from-home arrangements fueled new interest from readers adjusting to the challenges with personal accountability. And everyone found help with titles like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, Wendy Wood’s Good Habits, Bad Habits and The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

I didn’t believe there was more room for another habits book until I read Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. His research and his writings isolate the particular components of what make up habits and show people how to best utilize each to create new habits. I can’t think of a better time for this kind of book. Fogg is like a trainer you might hire if you really wanted more and better habits. He makes it simple to learn. He discerns the particular techniques that work best. And he’s also creative in how to engage them.

Only a few pages into the book, Fogg starts talking about a universal model for behavior. He says the model applies to everything, good and bad. Every behavior has three components: motivation, ability, and prompt (BMAP, for short) Simple, right? When you are trying to change a behavior, start with the prompt and ask if there was a reliable trigger for the behavior. Next, ask if how able you were to do the new behavior? Ability could affect everything from having what you need to knowing what needs to be done. The final factor to check is motivation. High motivation makes creating a new behavior easy but motivation fluctuates and can interact with other competing motivations. 

What you are getting in Tiny Habits is a 300 page workshop. There is a whole chapter with ideas on how to break habits. And a chapter on working with others on habits. And appendices with scripts, flowcharts, and lists to help you brainstorm habits for common challenges. This book is packed with tips and lessons to learn how to change your behavior and teach others to do the same.

Uncharted: How To Map The Future by Margaret Heffernan

Some books are written to explain a moment, other books arrive at the right moment. Uncharted is both. In our craving for a “new normal”, Heffernan would caution against there ever being a known future. Forecasts attempt to predict the future, but they are easily flawed with the ideologies of their creators. Memory, individual and collective, gives us the capacity to simulate the future, and we then miss the variations by creating false analogies of new situations. As our datasets grow, so does our false confidence in seeing the patterns they hold.

There are so many stories that drew my attention, the additional benefit of reading the perspectives from a European-based author. You could draw lessons from Ireland’s experiment with deliberative democracy to work with controversial topics like gay marriage and abortion. You could look to Alberto Fernandez’s work to fight corruption and reestablish a sense of ethics in his home country of Mexico. Heffernan highlights artists like playwright Henrik Ibsen and printmaker Norman Ackroyd, pointing to a different process for how one might uncover and trust what will unfold.

Uncharted read like popular nonfiction from authors like Mary Roach or Chip Heath. Heffernan mines a wide ranging cast of characters and histories. Her style favors more examples, which runs the risk of overwhelm, but never does. The throughline persists and we can see how all of these points connect into a greater understanding. Her intention is not to provide answers, but consider the questions that makes you think about how you think about the future. 

I’ve Been Thinking… – #17

Today, I am 18,000 days old.

I don’t remember exactly what caused me to calculate this. I vaguely remember a “How To Survive 2020” article from early in the summer and its encouragement to shorten the timeframe you were focused on.

The pandemic has shown how foolish we are in thinking we know what will happen next, how strong the illusion that all our plans will unfold and all our goals will be achieved. Our plans never survive first contact with reality, but the needed adjustments are often minor. We forget all the tinkering and how easily the direction of our lives is nudged towards another unknown destination.

I don’t know anyone who is not noticing the adjustments now, all that change that feels like has been forced on us. There is an enormous amount of denial about that change. We seem unable to accept. We cling to being certain, mostly certain that reality is something different that it really is. In times like these, “I don’t know” is a good antidote. Not knowing can be a good place to sit. The tension between ‘what we want’ and ‘what is’ is relieved.

The actuary tables say I have almost exactly 11,000 days left. I turn fifty this year and that is coming with some denial. There is also nostalgia. I want to hold onto things that aren’t true anymore. There are not more days ahead of me than behind me. Maintaining my weight is no longer automatic. My three amazing teenagers will not be here forever.

Right now, I am focusing on today and finishing writing this newsletter. That feels like a good place to sit.

Best of 2020

Last year, I wrote a piece for Medium about the best business books of 2019. I looked at all of the important lists—Financial Times/McKinsey competition, Amazon, Inc. Magazine, Porchlight Books, Strategy + Business Magazine, and Bookpal—to see how much agreement there was between them. Last year, there were three books chosen by five of those six sources. That was some incredible consistency across such a wide range of perspectives. RangeNine Lies About Work and Loonshots are all great titles if you haven’t read them.

Medium invited me back again this year and I am working on the essay for 2020 now. It will be published next week but I thought I could give you a little sneak peak 🙂 There wasn’t the level of consistency that there was last year. One book appeared on four of the six lists and that was No Rules Rules by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and INSEAD professor Erin Meyer. I like this book alot. The book explains the media company’s culture that has propelled them forward as they disrupted their own business multiple times. The teachings are also intriguing because I am not sure they can be easily applied in other places. Hastings and Meyer talk about the convincing upsides and downsides that they knowingly accept.

Four other books were selected by three outlets: No Filter by Sarah Frier, If Then by Jill Lepore, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson, and Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan. I’ll have more to say about those in the article.

The Season of Celebration

December is a month full of celebrations. There are almost too many to list: Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day in UK, Omisoka in Japan. You could certainly add the various forms of Thanksgiving and Diwali. I’d like to add one more to your list.

In Buddhist tradition, this week is the most venerated time in the yearly calendar. In Zen, this week is called Rohastu, which literally translates as ‘the 8th day of the 12th month.’ December 8th, which was yesterday, commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. The story goes that Siddharta sat under the Bodhi Tree for 49 days without moving. On the final night, he finally found the answers he had been searching for most of his life. His insights became the core teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. In temples all over the world, even this year, people are sitting seven day sesshin, in respect to the Buddha’s and their own enlightenment.

In 2017, I visited India and made a trip to Bodhgaya, where the Bodhi Tree is located. I was immediately taken by the place. There were practitioners making their way through 100,000 full prostrations in front of the temple with their kneeling boards and digital counters. Monks were circumambulating the temple, most walking, some one prostration at a time. For most of the week there were several thousand Tibetan monks on the grounds each day chanting.

Before all those ceremonies started, I spent a day sitting under the tree. I didn’t bring Siddharta’s commitment to finding the path. My intention was to just be there and be curious. I watched people chase the precious leaves that fell from the tree. I sat with my teacher for a while. I looked for images to capture with my camera, trying to hold onto the indescribable feeling of devotion and peace that this place held. As I got up to leave, someone walked over to me, smiled, and handed me a leaf.

Last Words

The secret to happiness, of course, is not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you get.”

—Alex Trebek

The Nature Preserve – An Unofficial Game Campaign for Wingspan

Welcome to the landing page for The Nature Preserve!

The Nature Preserve is an unofficial game campaign for Wingspan Board Game. The campaign has a series of seven interconnected games. Each game has a set of conditions that makes the gameplay unique from the standard rules for Wingspan, and in some cases, actions from one game can affect subsequent games.

Or click here to download the instructions.

The Nature Preserve is also available now in French.

On this page, you can find all the information you need to play and download instructions for The Nature Preserve.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What do I need to play?

To play The Nature Preserve, you need:

  • The original base edition of Wingspan (the European Expansion works as well).
  • A campaign scoresheet for each player, which can be found on page 3 of the instruction booklet.

Where can I buy Wingspan?

We believe you should buy your copy from Stonemaier Games. They ship globally! You can also find it at many other retailers.

What is a game campaign?

A game campaign is a series of games designed to be played in sequence toward an end goal.

Each game has a set of conditions that makes the gameplay unique from the standard rules for Wingspan, and in some cases, actions from one game can affect subsequent games.

Is The Nature Preserve a legacy campaign?

The Nature Preserve is not a legacy campaign. In most legacy games, components are permanently altered to signify changes in rules or gameplay. With The Nature Preserve, you can continue to use your Wingspan base game and any expansions after playing any part or all of The Nature Preserve campaign.

How does this campaign work?

The Nature Preserve is designed to be played as a campaign of seven consecutive games.

You will always start with using the standard rules for Wingspan involving birds, food, and eggs. If there is ever a question about gameplay, you should always use Wingspan’s standard rule set.

For each game, you will get a short description and a set of modifying instructions for that game. Read those instructions carefully and set up the modifications in the order they are listed. This will help with clarity and continuity of gameplay.

How do you win?

Players accumulate campaign points through four methods:

  1. Games Won: Each win earns a player 10 points.
  2. Total Birds Played: This is a new metric for The Nature reserve. At the end of each game, count the number of birds, including your anchor bird, and record them on the scoresheet. The player with most birds played at the end of the campaign earns 10 points.
  3. Total Eggs Played: The player with the most eggs played for the campaign earns 10 points.
  4. Final Game Bonus: Each player that fills their entire habitat with the maximum of 15 birds in the final game earns 10 points.

In the event of a tie, total points earned in the campaign serves as the tie-breaker.

Does The Nature Preserve work with the one-player automa version of Wingspan?

We designed the campaign with two or more players in mind. There are some playtesters who have modified the instructions to work with the automa mode. My guess is that more work is needed to make the campaign work well with automa. If you have ideas, please reach out to us. We would love to include that. We know there are lots of single players out there!

What do I do if I am not sure about the rules in one of the games?

When in doubt, our recommendation is to always use the standard rules in Wingspan.

Who created The Nature Preserve?

The campaign was created by the husband and wife team of Todd Sattersten and Amy Buckley.

How did you come up with the idea for The Nature Preserve?

Thanks for asking. I wrote a whole essay about that here.

What is The Nature Preserve like?

Well, we don’t want to say too much. Part of the enjoyment of the campaign is the surprises that each game offers. From the feedback from our testers, I can tell you that if you enjoy Wingspan, you will really enjoy The Nature Preserve.

Does The Nature Preserve work with the Wingspan expansions?

The campaign works with the orginal base game and European expansion. We have even incorporated some of the items from the European expansion into the game. And don’t worry, you do not need the European expansion to play The Nature Preserve.

We also feel good about the Oceania edition. We don’t see major conflicts. There might be one game where nectar production is affected.

Are you aware of other multi-game campaigns for Wingspan?

Yes!

My first recommendation would be Balanced Sanctuary. This is a five game campaign created by a father/son team. The games are fun, thematic modifications to the Wingspan base game.

There is another campaign available called Wingspan Legacy, designed by Kristina Zivanovic. Kristina takes an approach of modifying rules and having players engage as “characters” with special abilities. Kristina’s work was part of the inspiration for The Nature Preserve.

What if I have other questions about The Nature Preserve?

We recommend the following:

  1. Read the game rules again. The answer is probably in there.
  2. Post your question to the Wingspan Facebook group. Tag Todd Sattersten in the post and we will be happy to help. I am sure, others will too.
  3. Make up your own rules. It’s fine. It’s just a game 🙂

Or click here to download the instructions.

The Nature Preserve is also available now in French.

The Nature Preserve – The Backstory

Amy and I are excited to have The Nature Preserve out and in the world for people to play.

I wanted to share a little bit about how this happened, both as a record to look back on later and share with others how creativity makes its way into the world in many ways.

The Conditions

With creativity, I think sometimes we want to create the conditions for amazing things to happen. Sometimes, we also find ourselves in the conditions. In this case, it is more of the latter.

Over the last few years, as my kids have moved into their teens, we’ve been playing more board games as an antidote to screens. We quickly found the games of my youth like Monopoly and Life weren’t much fun and didn’t keep us playing.

Early on, we looked for alternatives and found games like Munchkin and Smash Up!. If you are not familiar both are card games where you collect create combinations to do cool things and accomplish game objectives. The gamers call these Euro-style games—a style of game that has some randomness but put more emphasis on the actions a player can take with the options they are given. Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are two Euro-style games that are very popular and you might have played.

So, I started to look for more games that we could add to our collection as birthday and holiday presents. And once you start that search, it is like stepping through The Looking Glass into another world. Dominion, Tokaido and Dixit all started to get play at our house. We start visiting a board game museum in Portland to play even more games.

Now, if you don’t play board games, I get it. You have never heard of any of this and this sounds like a crazy geek-ish obsession. In our case, it has become a fun obsession, but it lead to other things too.

Building Blocks

So, a couple years ago, I was hired to work on a book project. I can’t say a lot about the project because it hasn’t made it into the world yet and I don’t know if it ever will. I can say this board game hobby played a major role and was incredibly helpful. During that time, I researched the board game industry. Now, I can name popular game publishers. I read books on board game design. And for the board game lovers reading this, I, too, want to go to Essen someday 🙂

During that research, I ended up meeting Jamey Stegmaier, the guy who runs Stonemaier Games in St. Louis. I wanted to get some more background information on how board game publishing worked. Jamey’s strategy of one or two games a year also matched our one book a year publishing strategy at Bard Press. It’s been great getting to know Jamey and the games he is publishing.

Another condition that influenced things was the pandemic, like it has affected so many things this year. For our family, board games became a way connect when it got harder to connect with others. We added more boxes to our board game closet. Our oldest son pulled us into escape room style games like Exit The Room and T.I.M.E. Stories. Our middle son likes engine building games like Machi Koro. Our daughter puts up with all of this by pulling us into more straight forward games like Uno and Sushi Go Party.

Our overflowing board game closet

With so much time, we also started a playing Pandemic: Season 1. Yes, the theme matched the times. There was a strange kind of agency that we got fighting back against a fictional global pandemic. P:S1 is also a multi-game legacy campaign, where the game changes as make decisions and win games. The game is also cooperative, so every player is working with a character to reach a collective goal. We’d never played anything like that and once we got started everybody was interested in seeing what happened next.

Birds In The Forest

I got introduced to Wingspan when it got written up in The New York Times. It was another year until we bought it. Our copy arrived in April as we were really starting to settling into #pandemiclife. We were pretty familiar with euro style games by this point and after the initial game (which has a great tutorial module), we were hooked. More accurately, my wife and I were hooked. Lots of two-player games followed. My wife was so intrigued that she learned the automa version, so she could play the one player version even more often.

I joined the Wingspan Facebook group to see what other fans were talking about and not long after getting our copy, I saw a post from Kristina Zivanovic. She has created a campaign scenario for the game called Wingspan Legacy. Being in the middle of our Pandemic: Season 1 campaign, I was very intrigued. Kristina mapped out multiple games that were connected with player types that had different abilities. We immediately downloaded it and played through it.

After that something clicked—board games, Wingspan, legacy games and the strong desire to create something new during the pandemic all led to creating The Nature Preserve.

Early notes from The Nature Preserve

For Amy and I, we wanted our campaign to have a few things:

  1. We wanted players to be able to use the Wingspan base they already have and give players new ways to play it.
  2. We wanted actions in one game to affect the next game, but not so much so, that you started permanently altering components, like you would in a legacy game. That gave a creative constraint on what we could do.
  3. We wanted each game to have a unique challenge or goal. This might resemble an achievement sheet that you sometimes get in other board games.
  4. Finally, I wanted there to be a story that connected all of the games together. In our case, the theme of each story point ties to the challenges that players encounter in that game.

From there, we did lots of play testing of different versions of the various games. We worked on the right order to play the games to create a compelling campaign. And then we set out to write the instructions. I have a whole new appreciation for game designers and their skills at writing clear rules for players.

When we had a prototype, we put the instructions in a Google Doc and invited folks from the Wingspan Facebook group to play test the campaign. This was one of the most satisfying parts of the whole project. Players gave us great feedback on campaign and helped us make the instructions even clearer. We had over 75 play testers from all over the world try out The Nature Preserve. And now it is your turn 🙂


Thanks for listening and if you are interested in trying out The Nature Preserve for Wingspan, you can click on the link below to download the campaign instruction booklet.

Or click here to download the instructions.

You can also find more information with a full list of frequently asked question on The Nature Preserve campaign page.

I’ve Been Thinking… – No. 14

When we read the definitive account of the year 2020, the publisher in me wants a book that opens with the events of July 30th. You could pick any number of other days in this crazed year but I don’t think you will find a single day that encapsulates everything.

At 9AM Eastern Time on that Thursday, the Commerce Department announced that the Gross Domestic Product dropped at a record 9.5% in the second quarter. That was coupled with the news of yet another week with over a million people filing for unemployment. They joined the 30 million that already had. At that point, the historical comparisons start to fail.

The economic impact will be just one effect that people will talk about when they talk about the year that COVID-19 hit. It would be hard for the writer to skip the 150,000 deaths in America due to the coronavirus. During his press conference that day, the President acknowledged the number and the loss of life. That writer might give other examples of the effects like the overall death rate in America and the fact that there were 190,000 more deaths in those prior five months than what’s found in a normal year, eliminating some of the doubt sowed in whether COVID-19 was anything to worry about or how easily it could be fixed.

The writer would address the theme of doubt in 2020. At that same news conference, the President would answer questions about a tweet he sent out earlier in the day, just ahead of the GDP announcement.

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???


Journalists would try to pick the right verb to describe what he was doing in the tweet. Was he floating the idea? Was he suggesting that election be delayed? Maybe it was all a smokescreen for the horrible economic news? Asked directly at the news conference if he proposed delaying the election, he would just cast doubt, saying mail-in balloting won’t work. “Everyone knows it,” the president said, “Smart people know it. Stupid people may not know it. And some people don’t want to talk about it.” The writer might cite all the states that already allowed mail-in ballots, the research that shows it helps neither political party, or the fact that studies showing fraud occurs at less than one in a million mail-in ballots, meaning in a typical election there would be fourteen ballots that were falsified . The writer also might introduce the concept of gaslighting or save it for a later chapter in the book, one based on the corrosive effects that confusion, misdirection, and suspicion had grown to have on American society.

In this imagined book, the author would also write about the national conversation about race in 2020. Pages would be devoted to the shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. The announcement that Breonna Taylor would be appearing on the cover of O magazine, the first time Oprah herself would not, would also be mentioned as having taken place on that day—July 30th.

Portland, my hometown, I imagine would get a mention. The author would write about Black Lives Matter, the sixty nights of local protests, and the response that spun out of control when federal forces arrived. July 30th would again be shown important, because it was the day that federal law enforcement left the city of Portland and that night, peaceful demonstrations returned to the city.

And incredibly, that wasn’t everything that happened that day.

In a day marked by economic strain, a pandemic, questions about an election, protests and even a rocket launch to Mars…in the state of Georgia, they were celebrating the life of Representative John Lewis. The writer would debate if the first chapter only be about the funeral, attended by three past presidents and many members of Congress. It would be easy to recount the speeches made about a man who fought his entire life for the rights of others and how all the speakers alluded to the divisiveness in the country. And how they also struck notes of hope and called for action. From the grave, Lewis called back, seeming to know the stories that would unfold that day.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

For this book, the rest of the year still needs to write itself, but July 30th, 2020 is a compelling opening. The events of that day show the past, the present, and the future all unfolding together. Whether we admit it or not, this weaving is happening all the time, and in rare moments the intertwining threads become a little more visible and we can see causes and effects in the complicated, myriad ways that the world reveals itself.

I hope someone writes this book; we all need more ways to make sense of what has happened this year.

Portlandia 2020

Photo by drburtoni

I live in Portland and I am getting notes from friends and family.

The nature of the questions varies but they fall along the spectrum from “What the hell is going on?!” to “Are you ok?”

Most of the time downtown Portland looks like the photo above. This is outside the Apple Store.

The nightly protests are taking place just south of there, in a 12 block area surrounding the federal courthouse. The lower floors of courthouse were damaged in the first weeks of the George Floyd protests and has been boarded up ever since.

Each night for almost two months, protestors have shown up to make their voices heard. There is a point each night when one side starts to throw fireworks and the other throws tear gas.

My conversations fall in a similar duality with demands for real change and expectations of a return to law and order. Ask about thoughts on the presence of federal law enforcement and those lines start to blur. The energy downtown has been refueled by people all over the city who believe in the protests and don’t believe federal forces should be here.

This is day 56 and it is not ending any time soon.

I’ve Been Thinking…(#13)

Here are some opening words…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

-James Baldwin

“Why you?”

This is one of the questions readers ask themselves before buying an author’s book.

“Why are you the person to listen to as an authority on this topic?”

Publishers and editors bring a similar lens when they make decisions about signing book projects.

We bring all sorts of biases to that question and we are fooling ourselves if race isn’t one of them.

While black authors are dominating the major bestseller lists right now, there are no black authors on the business book bestseller list this week. Or last week. Not the Top 15. Not in the Top 50. The last book I could find by a black business book author was back in the first week of May. Before that, it was a week in March.

Try this exercise: go to your bookshelves and find the business titles written by black authors.

What did you come back with? Malcolm Gladwell (maybe), and… My guess is that most people will come back empty handed. For me, I had two business books by black authors. That’s crazy and sad.

So, I started a real search for business books by black authors. I checked list after list. The same books came up. I bought all of them. There might be a total of twenty books sitting on the table in my office. Twenty books. That’s it.

A third of the books were biographies and memoirs that aren’t really business books. The next third were self-help titles with authors writing books framed around their experiences. The final third were straight up business books.

So, the sum total of what I could find was seven business books written by black authors. Like I said, that’s crazy and sad.

To successfully publish a business book, you need a combination of expertise and popularity. For the first part, authors need to do the work, think about the work and start to tell people how the work can done better. The works needs to have scale. Do the work at a big organization or for big organizations. Or create big, remarkable things that get noticed.

And then you need an audience. People need to see your work. Write for a newspaper. Host a podcast. Make documentaries. Become a Youtuber. Publish, publish, publish. Give speeches. Host events. Do interviews. Show people your work.

That truth leaves us with a problem.

We might use the fact there are only four black CEOs in Fortune 500 as a proxy for the difficulty that black people have in gaining the business expertise and market awareness needed to publish a successful business book.

This creates a credibility problem for readers. This creates a credibility problem for editors and publishers. This starts to explain the lack of business books by black authors.

I knew there were not many black authors in the business category. The 100 Best Business Books of All Time doesn’t have any black authors. And the honest reality is that if I rewrote it today, it still wouldn’t because there are so few titles to draw from.

Not seeing scope of the problem—the almost complete absence of black authors in business books—is the part gnawing at me. The work that the black community is asking everyone to do right now is to just start looking for the bias and the blind spots you have. I am biased. I have worked in business book publishing for sixteen years and I didn’t see it. There is more to say and do on this.

Today, I am going to start with something simple. This week, there is an effort underway called #BlackoutBestSellerList. The point is to create awareness for black authors and put more authors on the list by encouraging people to buy two books this week by black authors.

If you want to support black authors in the business community, here are four great choices:

  • The Power of Broke by Daymond John – You likely know Daymond John from Shark Tank. He writes his books to push you. He also has written three other books including Display of Power, Rise and Grand, and his latest Powershift. If you want a brand name, buy one of Daymond’s books.
  • Starting Finishing by Charlie Gilkey – Charlie is a close friend and I am a fan of Start Finishing. The book covers all the things that get in the way of doing the work you want to do. Start Finishing is works well for the analytics who want a manual for better productivity and a better life.
  • It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton – Arlan’s book came out six weeks ago. She is the founder of a venture capital fund dedicated to the “underestimated” women, LBGT+, and people of color founding companies. For me, this book is about possibility and how grit and smarts embodies successful entrepreneurship.
  • Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins – Goggins completed the elite training in every branch of the U.S. military and has gone on to become a multiple world-record holder in endurance athletics. This book is for the drivers who work every day to be their best self.

If my work or the books I have published have helped you, my ask is that you buy one of these books this week.

I hope you are well. Please stay safe. More soon. -Todd

Market Update on Business Book Publishing – May 20, 2020

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And if you missed it, please check out my post from March 22nd and follow-up post on April 6th on the shift in the business book market.

1. Six Weeks Later…

I wrote my last report on April 6th and at that point, we were starting to settle into a new normal of depressed sales in business and self-help. There had been four weeks with sales down almost 50% and the trend continued into the following week.

But then a funny thing happened—sales increased.
And the same thing happened the following week.
And again the following week.

You can see in the chart below that those increases have been significant and we are starting to return to pre-COVID-19 sales levels in business and self-help.

This is good news for this corner of the world. The return of business books reflects the same resilience that has been seen in the book publishing market throughout the COVID-19 period.

2. The Tale of Two Categories

In my market reports, I have been discussing business and self-help as a singular category. I have a long standing theory that the two categories are starting to look more and more like each other and that the decision a publisher makes to classify a book in one group or the other may not reflect in what part of their life the reader is helped. This last part is very important. What business books look like today, or maybe more accurately what books people read to help in them in business, differs greatly from ten or twenty years ago.

But in digging into the winners and losers in the larger group, I started to notice that books classified as self-help were recovering more strongly than business titles. So, I went back to the full dataset and broke out the books by business and self-help.

Business books lost sales, have started to return, but have not yet fully recovered, down over 20% from early March.

Self-help also lost sales, has recovered, AND selling better now than before COVID-19, up 19%.

Well, that’s interesting 🙂

3. Where is the recovery?

  • Journals – I mentioned that in a prior report that journals for self-reflection were selling well. In looking at these last three weeks of recovery, eleven titles within the twenty books with the biggest gains (in business or self-help) were journaling products like Burn After Writing, 52 Lists for Happiness and 52 Lists for Calm, Create This Book and Create This Book 2, Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice (and Michelle Obama in the public right now with the new Netflix special and the just announced 2020 prom with MTV), Do One Thing Every Day That Centers You, and Zen As F*ck. If you extend further down the list, nineteen of the top fifty books are journals or workbooks. As a point of reference, I looked back at the self-help bestseller list for the week of February 23rd and there were nine journal titles in the top 50.
  • Best-Selling Self-Help – Books like Girl, Stop Apologizing, The Art of Not Giving A F*ck, and You Are A Badass saw their sales decrease, but they are leading the return with additional growth alongside the overall trend of increased sales in self-help.
  • Brené Brown’s books – All her titles have seen sales growth, but now Dare To Lead, her business leadership title, has seen big increases in these last three weeks.
  • Personal Finance and Investing – Not surprisingly, money is on the reader’s minds. When you look at subcategories for business and self-help, the subjects of investing, money management and personal finance occupy three of the ten top growing subcategories. This is driven by well-known titles like The Intelligent Investor, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Total Money Makeover.
  • A few in business titles – There are not many business titles that are selling better now than before COVID-19. Besides Dare to Lead, Never Split the Difference, a great book on negotiating, is seeing new growth. Atomic Habits has gained share among the titles in the habits subcategory.

4. Evolving Theories

It’s impossible to aggregate the felt need of thousands of readers and try to explain with one grand unifying theory to explain everything going on in the market, but I am going to offer a few ideas to consider.

After the initial COVID-19 shock, many people are returning to more normal routines. We are leaving immediate forms of media like websites and cable news and returning longer formats like books. Like the trend in journals, books help us reflect on our experiences.

Business books have recovered from lows in April but not fully because there are important channels that are not operating. Retail outlets like Barnes & Noble and airports stores like Hudsons are either closed or suffering from drastically decreased foot traffic. Almost all B&N stores are still closed to in-store purchases. Airlines passengers are down 90% from a year ago this time. And the events channels connected to speaking, coaching and training are way down. The authors I know are pushing hard to create virtual alternatives to in-person events and interactions. Some are connecting books to those events.

5. Shift to Digital?

There is an interesting question around how COVID-19 will affect product mix. Sales data for digital products is hard to come by, but anecdotes from several sources point towards an increased demand for ebooks.

  • Simon & Schuster was specific and said their ebook sales were up 13% in the first quarter.
  • HarperCollins reported that ebooks “returned to growth”.
  • Rakuten, the owner of the Kobo ebook platform, shared that they added 2.2 million new customers worldwide in the first three months of 2020. They attributed that to changes in reader behavior from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Storytel, a ebook and digital audiobook subscription service based in Europe, announced growth of 33.5% in the first quarter.
  • According to K-lytics, the Amazon KDP author fund of $29 million in March is the largest ever with year over year growth of 6.6%.
  • Ebook marketer Bookbub has reported double digit increases in sales of ebooks promoted through their service and consistent across all of their retail partners and region they operate in.
  • In our hometown of Portland, Oregon, we are finding ebook lending at the library much more in-demand and in the last three months, often needing to wait for popular ebooks to become available.

I plan to keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by clicking on this link.

I’ve Been Thinking (#12)…

…about how long it has been since I wrote one of these.

I started to write this back in February. The mood was starting to turn. People were sick in China and Italy. I got preoccupied by all of it. And then I got sick with all the symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of the month. I just thought it was a strong flu. Even then, I was barely connecting my illness to what was happening. At some point, I hope to get a test for antibodies to see if I did get infected early in the cycle.

Right Now

I have found myself struggling to figure out how to respond to everything going on. I finally relied on what has long worked for me: starting reading. This is not the first crisis that I or country or the world has faced. Many, many people have written about the struggle and the hope that is always there.

I collected a set of those thoughts and writings into an ebook called Right Now. It contains less than twenty pages and you can probably read it in about 15 minutes. There is a wide range of perspectives. I hope you will find something that lands with you. You can find the landing page here.

I also want to thank my friend and long-time collaborator Joy Stauber for helping me put this collection into the world. She does amazing work as a designer. You should check out her work.

Trends in Business Books

Another way I have felt that I have been able to help is looking at the business book market and try to make sense of it.

I was already doing market research for authors and around some future projects, when this all hit. I just shifted my focus to start looking at the macro effects.

It’s been rough. Business and self-help sales are down roughly 40%. Launches are seeing less sales and many publishers are pushing their release dates later in the year.

If you are interested in more detail, check out my update from March 20th and my update from April 6th. I am working on a third update, but I need a little more data to know where things are headed next.

Fun and Games

We are a big board game family and one way we are spending time together at the table. I have been posting photos on Instagram of our choices if you want some inspiration.

I have to say that Wingspan from Stonemeier Games has been getting a lot of play in the last two weeks. The illustrations are beautiful. The gameplay is easy enough to learn but the strategies you can play are numerous. If you really want to nerd out, you can read about the birder and game designer Elizabeth Hargrave in the New York Times.

That’s all for now. Stay safe (I mean it!) and be well. -Todd

Business Book Market – April 6, 2020

The business book market continues to shift.

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And if you missed it, please check out my first post from March 22nd on the shift in the business book market.

We now have three weeks of retail sales data from March and can compare February and March sales.

1. Total Market

Overall, the categories of business and self-help are down 33%.

NPDecisionKey has been highlighting business and self-help in the last two weeks as among the most negatively affected categories in book publishing.

And to use a Wall Street method of comparison, the ratio of losers outnumber winners in a ratio of 9 to 1.

2. Categories

The categories is the largest drops in business and self-help are the most popular ones:

  • Leadership
  • Personal Growth
  • Personal Success
  • Motivation and Inspiration
  • Management

The lone mild but notable category of growth is Creativity in the Self-Help category. This group is where you find guided journals like Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones, the various versions of Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith, Create This Book by Elizabeth Moriah. This demand feels like a corollary to the huge increase in sales of children’s coloring and activity books. In the case, they are activity books for teenagers and adults.

3. Losers

If the top-selling categories are being affected, individual titles in those groups are too.

Titles with the biggest drops in units sales include:

  • StrengthFinder 2.0 by Gallup
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Tiny Habits and BJ Fogg
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
  • Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

4. Winners

It is very interesting to see the books people are moving to as we work to understand and deal with the current state of the world. Here are the notables on the list.

  • Shift – The Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller and his co-authors wrote this book in 2009 following the mortgage to help agents adjust to the new market.
  • The Intelligent Investor – The 1949 classic on value investing from Benjamin Graham sells, as people try to navigate the stock market.
  • The Black Swan – Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s 2005 book about huge events you can’t see coming (for the record, Taleb thinks this is a white swan).
  • Remote – the guide from the founders of Basecamp on how they work as a company with employees all over the world.
  • The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday’s first book on stoicism with a perfect title for the time.

Speaking of timely tiles…

5. A Lesson on Framing

Mark Manson is a bestselling author with two books in the market.

His 2016 bestseller The Subtle of Art of Not Giving a F*ck has been a huge success with over three million copies sold. This book has been adversely affected at similar levels to other bestsellers listed above, with sales down 30%.

Everything Is F*cked, Manson’s follow-up from 2019, has done well but not reached the levels of his first book. The interesting part is that, in the last month, sales have been up 11%.

Like The Obstacle Is The Way, this most recent book from Manson, is titled in a way that speaks to the particular felt need that people have right now around fear and uncertainty.

The timeless lesson for developing books: be clear and direct when you title a book.

6. So, what’s going on?

I have been thinking a lot about what’s going on in the business book market and if there is a way to adjust to those changes. Here are the biggest factors in my estimation:

  1. The events industry has been shut down completely – Conferences, conventions and training are an important source of direct selling and follow-on sales after an audience seeing an author.
  2. Retail “stores” are almost completely closed – With state mandated closings in most states, physical bookstores are closed all over the country. Barnes & Noble reported that all their stores will be closed in the next few days. Airport stores are open but empty. Libraries, another source of literary interaction, are also shuttered during this time. While many, particularly independents, are adapting and taking online orders to solid demand from customers, our exposure to books is dampened right now and online sales are not replacing all of the prior demand.
  3. We are choosing the more immediate – Books are great at telling stories in the long form, after the fact. The story of this time is being told right now and we are choosing more immediate forms of media to watch it unfold. Business podcast listening is up 10%. CNBC has twice the audience they did at the beginning of the year. Even President Trump’s news briefings are drawing ratings similar to a Monday Night Football game. Books don’t exactly fit the kind of information we are looking for right now.
  4. Cost cuttings – In 2008, as the economy began to tighten during the last crisis, large organizations reduced expenses with what was deemed optional. Books were at the top of the list. That was a tough hit for the market. A combination of purchase orders and corporate credit cards fund a lot of purchases. We are seeing that belt-tightening in market segments most affected by the shutdown, such as retail and aviation, but it doesn’t feel like effect runs across all business segments.

7. What’s good?

Well, books are still selling. In March, the market was 1.9 million copies. The market isn’t going to go to zero.

Books are still launching. The Blueprint by Doug Conant, The Catalyst by Jonah Berger, and Upstream by Dan Heath all launched in March with more than 10,000 copies sold in their first month.

…BUT (and this is a huge point) all of these books launched before March 10th. Launches since then have been very modest. The business book publishers, like all media firms, are pushing publication dates into the fall, which creates another risk with the certain preoccupation we will all have with the presidential elections in the U.S.

One test will be the business book launch of Joy At Work by organizing phenom Marie Kondo and her co-author Scott Sonenshein. It will be released April 7th.

8. Closing

I think it is a tough mix for business books right now. Lack of attention and lack of money are slowing the market.

Books are a long lead time product. If you have written something that can help clients adjust like the Winners above, you are in a good spot right now. Share and promote to create awareness. You likely have new customers for your work.

Get close to your clients and find out what is arising for them right now. Beyond the coronavirus, everyone is finding weaknesses in their businesses. I know several examples of companies that are using this time to get their processes fixed to be ready when we get to the other side. Don’t look for the book they need now; write the book that people need next.

I’ll keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by click on this link.