Self-Help / Personal Growth book sales are growing

BookNet Canada spends a lot of time looking at sales trends in the Canadian trade book market — phenomena such as the rise of colouring books, how literary awards impact salesOprah vs. everybody, and much more. We also put out the epic annual publication The Canadian Book Market, which looks at sales trends for 50 subject categories.

But what about the smaller categories that may go unnoticed? The third- and fourth-level BISAC categories (i.e., the more granular subjects) whose sales trends might be masked when lumped together among their higher-level, overarching BISAC categories? This came up recently when we looked at the growth of the Nonfiction / Games & Activities / Role Playing & Fantasy BISAC category, which saw a 77% growth in print unit sales between 2016 and 2017.

So we decided to explore year-over-year growth in granular BISAC categories to see if we could uncover some hidden gems.

Some notes on our methodology: The subjects we explore are not comprehensive but are a group of sub-genres where we found notable year-over-year growth. To find these categories, we ran reports in SalesData for all BISAC subjects and compared their growth between 2016 and 2017. We then limited the categories to those that are more granular than what we traditionally examine. For example, Nonfiction / Self-Help came up on our list, but since we look at this category in our other research, such as The Canadian Book Market, we manually dove into its third-level subject headings to see how those categories performed. (The sales we're looking at come from our comparable store panel and do not represent all sales tracked by BNC SalesData. Comparable stores refer to a static group of retailers that have been reporting to SalesData since 2013. This way, we avoid tracking artificial growth resulting from new stores being added into the SalesData panel.)

We will be publishing a few blog posts about these hidden gems, the first of which is — you guessed it — Self-Help / Personal Growth.

Self-Help / Personal Growth category up 22% between 2016 and 2017

Self-Help / Personal Growth is one of the third-level BISAC subject categories where we saw this notable year-over-year growth. When comparing print sales from 2013 to 2017, we found a 56% increase in the category, with a 22% increase just between 2016 and 2017.

Under Self-Help / Personal Growth, there five fourth-level sub-genres: 

  • General

  • Happiness

  • Self-esteem

  • Memory improvement

  • Success

Sales in the General and Happiness sub-genres have been notably trending up over these four years, with a 27% increase just between 2016 and 2017. 

In the graph below we have also included the overall Non-Fiction category (plotted on a separate axis), where we are seeing an overall decreasing trend from 2015, in direct opposition from the Self-Help sub-genres we will discuss.

Sales in the General and Happiness sub-genres have been notably trending up over these four years, with a 27% increase just between 2016 and 2017. 

Self-Help / Personal Growth comparable store sales 2013-2017

 Graph showing growth in sales of Personal Growth / General and Personal Growth / Happiness against the growth in sales of the overall Personal Growth category and the overall Non-Fiction market.

Another question we had is whether the growth we're seeing is due to an increasing number of ISBNs in the category. We found that there has been a slight increase in the number of ISBNs published, and it appears to be at the same pace at which we're seeing an increase in sales. 

Self-Help / Personal Growth ISBN count 2013-2017

 Graph showing the ISBN count for Personal Growth / General and Personal Growth / Happiness against the ISBN growth for Personal Growth overall and Non-Fiction overall.

Top-selling Self-Help / Personal Growth authors for 2017

So who are the big movers and shakers in this category? Listed below are the top-selling authors for 2017 along with their top-selling titles. 

  1. Meik Wiking (The Little Book of Lykke, 9780735234895)

  2. Brené Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection, 9781592858491)

  3. Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 9781451639612)

  4. Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills (The Four Agreements, 9781878424310)

  5. Neil Pasricha 🇨🇦 (The Happiness Equation, 9780425277980)

  6. Sarah Knight (Get Your Sh*t Together, 9780316505079)

  7. Gary John Bishop (Unfu*k Yourself, 9780062803832)

  8. Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich, 9781585424337)

  9. Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within, 9780671791544)

  10. Robert Greene (The 48 Laws of Power, 9780140280197)

Top-selling Self-Help / Personal Growth titles for 2017

  1. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (2016, 9780241283912)

  2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (2013, 9781451639612)

  3. The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha 🇨🇦 (2016, 9780425277980)

  4. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown (2010, 9781592858491)

  5. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills (1997, 9781878424310)

  6. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (2015, 9781592408412)

  7. Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop (2017, 9780062803832)

  8. The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking (2017, 9780735234895)

  9. Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight (2016, 9780316505079)

  10. Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven (2017, 9781455570249)

When looking at the top-selling titles of 2017, we find that The Little Book of Lykke tops the list and there are six books from 2016 or 2017; four of the books are backlist from 2015 or earlier with the oldest title, The Four Agreements, from 1997.

Even though many of the top-selling titles of 2017 were backlist titles, we find that when we look at the total number of units sold in 2017 by publication date that the majority of sales were for frontlist titles (i.e., books with a 2017 pub date). The average number of sales per ISBN for titles published in 2017 far exceeds those of previous years.

All of this suggests that while the Self-Help / Personal Growth category is quite strong in frontlist, the big sellers do tend to have a lot of staying power over time.

Print units sold in 2017 by publication date

 Graph showing print units sold by publication date.

Trends for 2018

So how are sales looking for 2018? So far, the Self-Help / Personal Growth category is up 5.9% over the same period in 2017. Looking at the top 10 titles, we find that Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop has made its way into the #1 spot followed by The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Brown also has a second book in the top 10: Daring Greatly. There's only one 2018 title that has so far broken into the top 10 for 2018, which is Judgement Detox by Gabrielle Bernstein (9781501168963).

Be sure to get a copy of The Canadian Book Market 2018 later this winter for a list of 2018's 10 bestselling Self-Help titles, along with lots of other 2018 tidbits. 

And stay tuned for the rest of our series looking into granular subject categories that are on the rise.