Big boom in business books linked to downsizing

August 15, 1994|By Newsday

Sales of business books are exploding and publishing companies have responded with a bewildering array of titles on the hot topics.

The Book Industry Study Group, a trade research organization, said that sales of books aimed at business professionals are projected to reach $594 million in 1997, compared with $389 million in 1987.

High priests such as Michael Hammer (Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution) and Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence) have sold hundreds of thousands of books.

But most authors are of lesser clerical orders, and many are recent exiles from the corporations they now seek to advise.

It is no coincidence that the business of business books is booming in the post-recession era of reorganization and downsizing.

The mainstays -- including Mr. Hammer and Mr. Peters -- are consultants and lecturers who help companies navigate through the minefield of global competition and advise less-than-fully-employed executives on the hazards of a midlife job search.

Companies are relying more on consultants to perform tasks that used to be done by staff -- everything from hiring to training to restructuring.

With so many consultants on the loose, the competition for clients is fierce.

That has made writing a book an almost obligatory credential.

"In writing a book, the person becomes the authority on the topic. That leads to help in the business and clientele base," said Tom Power, a senior editor with Prentice Hall who said he would have difficultly fulfilling demand without consultants.

"The authors I work with are keenly interested in building their clientele."

A book credential can be used to impress potential employers as well as clients.

Henry P. Conn co-authored one of the most widely read management books, Workforce 2000, published in 1991 and still selling well. He was hired by A. T. Kearney Inc., an international management consulting firm, shortly before the book was published.

"I did bring business to the company. I'm sure Kearney had this in mind," said Mr. Conn, who heads Kearney's worldwide research and development unit and works with some of the company's prestigious clients.

"It's a lot like academia: publish or perish," Mr. Power said.

And, brother, are they publishing.

"There have been so many books on resumes since 1987 (when the stock market crashed and jobs followed suit), they have their own section. We had to break resumes out of the business section," said Jay Grace, a buyer for Coliseum Books, a huge New York bookseller.

But while overall sales are good, most books still sell in relatively small numbers -- a few thousand copies -- before disappearing into oblivion. So the authors and publishers have to figure out how to get noticed.

Erik H. Rambusch, a management and career consultant and recruiter who operates his own small firm with offices in New York and Norwalk, Conn., co-authored two books published this spring, Conquer Resume Objections and Conquer Interview Objections. The books are in their second printings.

The books are based on Mr. Rambusch's workshops, in which he shows participants how to overcome the objections voiced by interviewers.

Basically, he says, job seekers should market themselves using standard sales techniques.

"Nobody has presented how to listen through objections and present yourself as the solution to the customer," who in this case is the prospective employer, said Mr. Rambusch.

The biggest sellers are books focused on a specific strategy or issue, not one-size-fits-all programs for success, said Eric Greenberg, research director for the American Management Association.

Beyond themes, buyers have other measures for judging potential success.

"Like anything else, we have to evaluate what the market looks like, the author's track record and what the publisher is doing with this book," said Sabrina Farber, a buyer for Barnes & Noble Inc.

She said she wants to know if the author has local or national columns or conducts seminars.

And who reads them? Well, some managers interviewed said they get their information from other sources: newspaper business sections and magazines, which are brief and more current than books.

The readership for books is diverse, but many experts say it is made up largely of people driven by a lack of job security.

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