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The Smaller the Ball, the Bigger the Sales

08.08.2011, Sports, by .


An old adage in publishing is the smaller the ball, the bigger the sales. This is traditionally true but there are, of course, exceptions.

A look at four sports that proves this statement:

  • Golf — Sales of golf titles generally back-list very well. This is dominated by “how-to.” As with the enormous sales in golf equipment illustrate, people are always trying to get better. Many of these books are by golf coaches as opposed to the celebrities. There are also a few successful books about the Masters, US Open etc. But overall the instructional books dominate. I wonder how eBooks and websites have changed this?
  • Baseball — The sport that has the most literature devoted to it. Historically baseball writers were considered a step above the other sports. Baseball has a tradition like no other and Biographies of the stars seem to have the best sales. Sales also that follow a specific championship season and team can be very appealing.
  • Football — Although football dominates television and mind-share of sports in America, the book sales generally lag behind baseball. Successful football books generally are around a single player or coach (Maraniss’ book on Vince Lombardi is classic). College football has some success too but it is highly regional.
  • Basketball — Few books on the NBA or NCAA basketball sell that well. Bill Simmons recently hit #1 with his NBA book but that was more built on his celebrity through ESPN, his blog and Twitter. Overall basketball books don’t sell very well.
There are other sports books that do sell but many transcend the sport. Examples of these include Andre Agassi’s OPEN and Lance Armstrong’s IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE. These highly successful books sold outside of the sports demographic. Both of these men had stories to tell that had universal appeal.
One area of sports books that has basically been eliminated by eBooks and websites is Sports Reference. I grew up scanning my Baseball Encyclopedia every day looking at past stats. Today it is all online. I prefer Baseball-Reference.com.

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