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Ferriss: Even if I sell a million Kindle books, some people will call it a failure

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Tim Ferriss — the bestselling author of  The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, both published by Random House’s Crown imprint — was the first author to sign up with Amazon’s New York publishing imprint, headed by publishing industry vet Larry Kirshbaum.

Amazon (s AMZN) will release Ferriss’s book on November 20, amid media coverage that the company probably isn’t thrilled about. Articles in Publishers Weekly, the Wall Street Journal and now the New York Times have focused on low print sales of Amazon NY’s first big title, Penny Marshall’s memoir My Mother Was Nuts, and bricks-and-mortar bookstores’ refusal to carry Amazon titles.

As Amazon attempts to sign big-name authors in the future, it will have to convince them that print distribution isn’t important. The 4-Hour Chef may be sold at few places other than Amazon. Barnes & Noble (s BKS), the largest bookstore chain in the U.S., won’t stock Amazon titles in its stores, and many independent bookstores refuse to do so as well. And while Amazon is making its New York titles available as ebooks to other retailers through distributor Ingram, few rivals are biting. The ebook edition of My Mother Was Nuts, for example, is for sale at Kobo but not at Google (s GOOG), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store or Apple’s (s AAPL) iBookstore.

Ferriss says he is not worried. He is cross-promoting The 4-Hour Chef, which Amazon will release on November 20, within his earlier two Crown titles. He announced on his blog today that the digital editions of The 4-Hour Workweek and 4-Hour Body will be updated with a sample chapter from The 4-Hour Chef, and The 4-Hour Chef will contain excerpts from the two earlier books.

“This is something that I effectively brokered. It made such straightforward business sense to cross-promote between the books,” Ferriss told me. He said it wasn’t hard to get Crown to agree to include the sample chapter of 4-Hour Chef in the earlier titles, though the Crown ebooks won’t include buy links back to Amazon.

Those articles, Ferriss told me, give the impression that he “didn’t know what he was getting into, and was very enthusiastic, and is now having second thoughts — which is completely, 100 percent inaccurate…I remain as enthusiastic and optimistic about this book as I was in the beginning.” People assume that success “means #1 New York Times bestseller,” he said. “I’ve never said that. I would love to have a #1 New York Times [bestseller], but the New York Times list skews heavily toward books that have reporting from multiple retail outlets. And therefore, I’m not pinning all of my hopes on the NYT list, nor did I ever do that. From the very first time that I considered working with Amazon, I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not sell print through retail.” On his blog, he writes, “Fiction: My goal is to have The 4-Hour Chef hit national bestseller lists. Fact: My goal is to have all three of my books on the lists at the same time.”

I asked Ferriss what he thinks about Barnes & Noble’s no-Amazon-books-in-stores policy — after all, the policy is partially having its intended effect at least in terms of media coverage like the articles I linked to above. “I’m not clear on what they are trying to prevent, or hoping to,” he said. “Do I blame them? No. If I were in their shoes, would I do the same thing? Maybe. I’m much more curious about what Barnes & Noble’s ten- to twenty-year plan is, as opposed to why they’re doing this with Amazon.”

When Ferriss originally signed up with Amazon, he expected “blowback” from the traditional publishing industry and retailers, he told me (and the NYT). “I’m very convinced this book will succeed in terms of the sheer number of units moved to readers,” he said. “I think it could sell as many [copies] or more than my previous two books. Am I going to have the same channels of distribution? No, I won’t, necessarily, because there are people who have blacklisted it…I think that no matter how well I do — even if I sell a million Kindle copies, for instance — there will be people in the book trade who call it a failure because they’re using different metrics.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr / Tim Ferriss

55 Responses to “Ferriss: Even if I sell a million Kindle books, some people will call it a failure”

  1. Rick Carufel

    I agree with the headline. Even if you sell a million eBooks the established, entrenched, writers’ guilds and organizations will still not consider you a professional writer and you will fail to meet the requirements of membership.

  2. I don’t the criticisms with tim ferris. His books are entertaining and engaging. I can put them down and they get me totally pumped. Isn’t that half the battle? If they inspire you for greatness and you take even 10% away from the book and use then job done.

    Some books are so boring I never make it to the end.

  3. Bob Mayer

    I was in traditional publishing for over 20 years. 42 titles. All the bestseller lists including NY Times, PW, WSJ etc. I went “indie” in 2010. I’ve never looked back. 99% of my sales are eBooks and I went from zero to seven figures in 18 months. Bookstores can boycott me all they want. My next book is coming out from 47North: Amazon’s scifi imprint and I’m getting a lot of flack from people because I don’t have print distribution, but I’m looking to the future, not the past.

    All the best to Mr. Ferris with his book.

    • Print is still 70% of sales. if you want to exclude a large number of readers that might otherwise have considered reading your books that is your choice, but plenty of us still don’t want to read ebooks.

  4. Tim’s first book was brilliant. Second book not so much. In fact it sucked. Lets hope this is better but not sure ill be forking out any more money for “his” products. He pretty much repackages others work.

    • Its funny you say that. Tim’s 2nd book changed my life, no hyperbole intended. Lost amazing amounts of weight, eating much healthier and now have run a marathon and triathlon this year. Not to mention I have passed along the favor to family members and coworkers, all of which have become brighter versions of themselves. It might not have pertained to you as adaquately as the first, but give it the respect it’s due.

      • Printed books are more enjoyable to hold and read for me and I’d rather spend my money on a physical product. Technology is not needed to do EVERYTHING. I have a smart phone and high speed internet, a nice TV, Blu Ray player, etc. I simply find the experience of reading from a physically book significantly more enjoyable.

  5. Brian R Baird

    Knowing what makes you happy or content will show some form of creativity in your end game. Benjamin Franklin believed If you find the thing you like to do, you never have to work another day in your life. The person that still cares about what others think, has not excepted there uniqueness and achievements that only they can accomplish. Kevin and Jim create different stuff universes apart.

  6. John Reisdorf

    alright… So as an introduction to ME… I listened to the ORIGINAL audiobook of “The 4-Hour Workweek” (which was on my Palm Tungsten… thanks btw), had an hour to an hour and a half driving commute to go work… Did it change my thinking? YEP It did!! When the printed version of “The 4-Hour Workweek Expanded And Updated” came out… I bought the printed version!!! (Audio doesn’t always translate well when you are talking about websites and charts and worksheets)… since then (or because of it) I bought a(n) e-reader… E-reader books really do not translate well when there are footnotes, sidebars, diagrams etc either… text only like a novel. LONG LIVE PRINTED MATERIAL!!

  7. The truth is solopreneurs and small business owners need this sort of motivational books.
    Some of them to get motivated to start up, some to learn from other entrepreneurs and sadly some just to daydream – that what if daydream.

  8. Stephen M Key

    I have known Tim Ferriss for over 10 years. He is a very unique individual in that, any subject he tackles, he does so thoroughly and completely. Tim not only presents his information in a way anyone can understand, he dissects every topic to find the shortest, fastest way to accomplish your goal. I highly recommend any and all of his books. Cheers, Tim, on your new book.

    • nathanmeffert

      Stephen – cool to see you responding here. :) Cheers! And – Tim: look forward to seeing the new book. I’m sure it’ll be excellent. Always interested in seeing what pushes buttons. Looks like you’ve got a live one here. :)

  9. Ferriss is one of those writers where even if you disagree with 80% of what he says, the remaining 20% is so useful and novel as to be worth the cost of the whole book. I look forward to getting his next one.

  10. B&N might damage its image more than helping by banning Tim’s new book from their stores. This is a great story to be discussed in public media which might again help for promoting the book.

    We will see.

    Looking forward to read 4HC.

  11. ONLY a person that didn’t ever read something of Tim Ferris can say something so stupid like :”the man is a complete jerk. He write worthless self-promoting dribble.”
    During the years i read really a LOT of books and the informations, the websites and his material is simply OUTSTANDING! Well done Tim Ferris!!! See you in the valley!! Donatello Bellomo

  12. I very much look forward to it! Go Tim!

    @Kevin, you clearly have not read anything from him, or you did not understand a thing. But these are your problems. His stuff is brilliant.