Thanks to all of you, The 4-Hour Chef will now be featured on all of the big bestseller lists: The New York Times (available to the public shortly), The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly.
I’m honored to have the opportunity to write for you, and it’s been an amazing trip. It always is. I’ve known some of you since 2007! Seems like a lifetime ago, and I hope to be alongside you for decades to come. Your reviews are what keep me going during the most stressful times.
On that note, let’s look at the week in review: this launch was very different and very challenging. I couldn’t have done it without you, the tremendous online and offline support, including Hastings and the indies backing this book. Without B&N at the party, my team and I had to innovate and experiment to even scratch the lists. Unorthodox bookselling avenues were created (Panera, BitTorrent, etc.) and many new things were learned.
For instance, BitTorrent conversion is NUTS. Of 210,000 downloads (of this bundle) earlier this week, more than 85,000 clicked through “Support the Author” to the book’s Amazon page. We all had to triple and quadruple check that to believe it. Even at a 1% conversion after clicking an effective “buy now” link, that translates to 850 books… and BitTorrent is only accelerating. Wow.
I also came to understand the hard costs of producing The 4-Hour Chef.
This book, a full-color 672-pages at $21-35 end-user pricing, would have been impossible or nearly impossible to produce outside of Amazon Publishing. Marketing and merchandising muscle aside, I owe them tremendous thanks for the most important element of all: paying for exactly what I wanted my readers to have. In the end, product is king. Marketing might get you on the list for a week, but only good content will keep you selling for years. They allowed me to showcase the best of what I had to offer.
To that point: I’m in this for the long-haul, and my goal is never to be a “one-week wonder” on the lists.
I have zero interest in approaching pub date like opening weekend for a big movie. Both of my previous books are still going strong, and my proudest accolade is perhaps the least known. Here it is: there are only two authors (excluding the author/authors of The Bible) who currently have two books in Amazon’s “Most Highlighted Books of All Time” top-10 list: Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games and me. Crazy but true. Many, many months ago, The 4-Hour Body was #1 for months.
I would love to add The 4-Hour Chef to that top-10 list. That list, which reflects readers’ feeling after buying, is much more important to me than the bestseller lists, which can be gamed. I know exactly how the black-hat folks do it, and I choose not to participate.
Regardless, and much to the chagrin of my critics, I’m just getting warmed up.
This leads us to…
Those bestseller lists — what happened exactly?
For the vast majority of you, the following will be boring. In fact, it’s pretty boring to me, but I need to understand the minutiae. If you’re an author, I’d highly suggest that you get familiar with the lists. They can be fickle and (sometimes) seemingly irrational beasts.
First, here is my previous primer on the basics of the bigger lists.
Next, before we delve into details, a fundamental piece of advice: start-up-style iteration isn’t just for product. It’s also for distribution.
I did NOT pull all my eggs into this first week, precisely because I wanted to iterate distribution. Since I am being boycotted by Barnes & Noble and others, it was unclear which of my sales would be counted or discounted by BookScan and others. I therefore reserved a lot of powder in the keg for later use, once lessons were learned.
It was a good thing I did.
See, I’m as obsessive about book data as I am about tracking physical data. In a single ongoing spreadsheet, I have weekly sales for every channel and every outlet for all of my books since April, 2007.
A few basic observations:
• BookScan only represents 25-30% of the market for most major bestsellers, but its rankings are relatively true, making it a good measure to sort out the variations in the NYT.
• USA Today is the only list that mixes ALL formats, including but not limited to eBooks.
• The NYT Advice list is the only major nonfiction list that doesn’t track eBooks for “Advice, How-to, & Misc.” This means all how-to books and cookbooks are omitted, among others.
• On the main NYT “nonfiction” print list (not “Advice, How-to, Misc.”), O’Reilly was listed as #2 and the #1 book sold half of what he did on BookScan.
• On the ALL formats USA Today list, the #1, #2 and #3 NYT books were at #24, #70 and #35 respectively, all below The 4-Hour Chef‘s #13 ranking.
Pretty odd arithmetic all around, huh? This leads to…
A few observations and questions to the universe:
– Isn’t it odd that 4HC was the #1 non-fiction book sold on Kindle last week, and the #1 ebook on The Wall Street Journal list, but it doesn’t even show up on the NYT ebook bestseller list? Why would that be?
– If the NYT list doesn’t reflect what people are actually reading, what does it reflect? Will they adapt to the times (and full spectrum of non-fiction) or be replaced? I would wager they have a matter of months to decide.
– The NYT does not appear to accept Kindle sales for my book, as it’s from a “single vendor.” That’s really too bad, since Amazon is the largest seller of ebooks in the world. It should be noted that Amazon offered The 4-Hour Chef to Barnes & Noble for their Nook device, and they declined.
– The 4-Hour Chef sold more than 60,000 copies in print and ebook its first week, which would likely put it at #1 on the NYT combined list if its ebook sales were counted. The media is overlooking this print-to-digital mix change and hanging on to the outdated notion that bestseller status = solely print retail sales. I sold more than twice Bill O’Reilly, who had an estimated less than 10k eBooks and was #1 on the NYT eBook list.
– Amazon sold more Kindle copies than print copies of The 4-Hour Chef. My first-adopter demographic is made up of readers who are embracing digital and driving digital growth, so this is not only relevant, but also strategic. We know, for instance, that week-one ebook sales of 4HC were more than week one ebook sales of The 4-Hour Body (over a 30% increase from my last launch, using the 21,000 number on hand), which given my audience–and it could very much be argued the future of book publishing–is a trend in the right direction.
None of this is sour grapes.
If I were in this for one week, it might be, but I have big bombs held in reserve, all to be used soon enough. I want The 4-Hour Chef to become a movement, and that will take years to reach full potential, not weeks.
I’m in no rush.
This is a ready, fire, aim-type of game. There is a lot more to come, so keep watching. If B&N would like to join the party, I’ll have a glass of wine waiting. Either way, it’s going to be one hell of a party.
Onward unto the breach!
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.