What People Are Still Willing To Pay For
Banking, autos, publishing, retail, manufacturing–the recession has hammered them all. But there is one squishy sector that just keeps on growing: the self-help industry.
Americans spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs–13.6% more than they did back in 2005, according to Marketdata Enterprises, an independent Tampa-based research firm that tracks everything from adoption agencies to funeral homes. Latest forecast: 6.2% annual growth through 2012.
Infomercials–peddling everything from weight-loss programs to quick-and-easy real estate schemes–pulled in $1.4 billion in 2008, down 5% from 2007 but still the largest by sales volume of any self-help medium. The hot growth area–up nearly 11% in the last year, to $527 ...view middle of the document...
What are they getting for their money? In a word: hope.
“[The gurus] aren’t selling you the features–they’re selling the image,” says Steve Salerno, author of Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. “Whatever they think you’re deficient in, they’re selling the solution.”
In his book, Salerno refers to the “18-month rule,” born out of market research by his former employer, Manhattan-based publishing giant Rodale. It turns out that the most likely customers of self-help products are the same people who purchased similar products within the previous 18 months.
Salerno’s beef: If they need another book or tape, the previous one must not have made good on its promise. “This industry is exploitive,” he says. “It takes advantage of people’s weaknesses.”
That’s not how the healers see it, of course. “People keep buying because they like to feel like they’re improving themselves,” says Brian Tracy, head of an eponymous self-help book-and-seminar outfit that grosses between $25 and $30 million, according to Marketdata. “The more you read, the more you grow. [Repeat customers] enjoy the study of self-help.”
Such study involves wrapping your head around theories like “listen to your heart” and “take responsibility for your actions”–part of a curriculum that helped Chopra pull in $1.3 million in 2008 from book sales and speaking engagements. (He now spends most of his time doing nonprofit work.)
Then there’s self-help superstar Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Thanks in great part to Oprah Winfrey, Byrne’s book and film have grossed $300 million. Byrne’s deep wisdom: Thinking positively will allow you to achieve your goals.
Whatever you think of the advice, the self-help sales pitch clearly resonates. The ray of hope for entrepreneurs? Meeting a market need and connecting with customers does work–no matter how bad the economy.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story cited Chopra’s 2008 personal income as $22 million.