Mega-Bestsellers and Their Not-Very-Good                                          to Really Great Strategy Siblings?

             DRAFT        DRAFT      DRAFT


Part I - The Mega-Bestsellers

The strategy bestsellers are mere minnows compared to the whale-sized bestsellers. Let us examine the whales before considering the minnows in more detail. The biggest whales of all are those of the political/religious belief systems. The "Big Three" religions are Christianity, 2 billion followers, Islam, 1.5 billion followers, and Hinduism, the oldest significant living religion, 900 million followers. These are religions with geopolitical aspects. A fourth candidate is Communism (1914 - 1991 as a major force), a mixed political system with religious aspects. (Capitalism does not qualify as a mixed system, as it seeks co-existance with, not replacement of, the world religions.) All these systems have impressive bestseller figures, and equally impressive death tolls. (Communism is probably the winner with 80 million victims, averaging a bit over a million a year dead during its 77 year long heyday.)1

    Estimates for the number of Bibles in print are unreliable. One estimate is 7.5 billion, give or take a billion, which appears as good a guess as any. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friederich Engels (1872/90) has been printed hundreds of times in just about all the world's significant languages for a total of, one suspects, several billion. The major Chinese Communist text, The Little Red Book, Quotations from Chairman Mao, by Mao Tse-tung (1893 - 1976) was translated into 65 langauges with one billion 55 million copies printed between 1964 - 1976. To that add the Koran and the Hindu texts (divided into revealed and remembered, the Vedas, Upanishads, etc.) for another couple of billion. Therefore the "serious spirituality - true believer" works, over which mass slaughter has been committed over the centuries, have 12 - 15 billion copies in print.

    The impact of all of these works is a strange paradox. The works themselves exhort one to strive for a virtuous life in, not merely a better, but in fact a "best, in fact only acceptable" system. This exhortation is promptly interpreted by a significant percentage of its followers as a compelling reason for torture and murder, even genocide. Would the world be a kinder, gentler place if all of these works, whose impact on so many of their readers is brutal and savage, were summarily banned? Probably not; the void would soon be filled by new, competing devine revelations of the only true path -- and woe onto all doubters and heretics.

    The whales of literature are not nearly as large as the political/religious ones. In fact, only five of them have had over 100 million copies printed. They are: Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1959 (200 million), The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolken, 1954/55 (150 million), The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolken, 1937 (100 million +), Dream of the Red Chamber, Cao Yueqin, 1759-91 (100 million +), And then there were none, Agatha Christie, 1939 (100 million). The best selling series is Harry Potter by Joanne Rowling, 1997 - 2007, with over 400 million copies in 65 languages sold. The 7th book set a single day sales record with 11 million copies purchased its day of release in the U.S. and U.K.2  (The leading German series is made up of the adventure novels of Karl May, with over 200 million copies in print.)

    Clearly, marketing a belief system is the method of choice to raise a gigantic cash cow, with mega-sales of books as just part of the revenue stream creating a sustainable competitive advantage against other belief systems. However launching a new one against the entrenched suppliers of belief systems is every bit as difficult as starting a new car company to compete against such giants as Mercedes, BMW, VW, Ford, Fiat, Honda and Toyota. One of the few entrepreneurs to have managed it in the second half of the 20th century is the pulp fiction and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (1911 - 1986). Why business schools do not teach more about, say, the Vatican and individuals such as this imaginative entrepreneur is a mystery. He earned a few hundred million dollars with the Church of Scientology, started in New Jersey in 1952 and still thriving.

    This lucrative organization is now headquartered in California and run by a most interesting "Pope," David Miscavige, reportedly a control freak with a predisposition to violence.  However do not underestimate the man. He managed to affirm the tax-free status of the "church" of Scientology with the IRS in the U.S., in the 1990s. This is the very same "church" that has been repeatedly found guilty of fraud in Spain, France, etc.!3 No other CEO of a Fortune 500 company, not even one of the daring, cutthroat CEOs of the drug empires, correction, tobacco multinationals, has even attempted such a challenge to the IRS!

    The key to founding a new religion is either being, or controlling, someone with spectacular charisma, a dozen Hollywood and music superstars all rolled into one. Given that key, one can then take advantage of the social media (e.g. the 500 million users of Facebook), study carefully other founders' playbooks, including the Dinetics of  L. Ron Hubbard, and you should have a reasonable shot at successful devine revelation, incarnation, etc.  ("What one man can do, another can do.") However very few individuals or organizations find themselves in the fortunate position of having access to this solid gold "charisma key." An attractive piggybacking alternative with Scientology is explained in the footnote.4

    Interesting is that of the combined literary bestseller sales of 1050 million, 650 million are in the "lightweight spirituality," i.e.  fantasy genre. In comparison, the top five business counterparts to the literary "Big Five" have combined sales of ca. 136 million, to which one can add the bestselling business series with 26 million. These quite respectably sized fish are all in English. They are: Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill, 1937 (70 million), Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson, 1998 (26 million), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephan R. Covey, 1989 (15 million), How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936 (15 million) and What Color is Your Parachute, Richard Nelson Bolles, 1970 (10 million). The best selling business series is Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, Sharon Lechter 1997 - present, 18 installments (26 million).


1 The Black Book of Communism (cf. the citation below) breaks down the 80 million as follows. For some peculiar reason no brave soul has yet ventured to publish a Black Book of Christianity, Black Book of Islam or Black Book of Hinduism to total up the pograms, massacres, burnings at the stake, and so forth of these respective belief systems. To return to Communism's impressive results:

  • China: 65 million dead
  • The Soviet Union: 20 million dead
  • North Korea: 2 million dead
  • Cambodia: 2 million dead
  • Africa: 1.7 million dead
  • Vietnam: 1 million dead
  • East Europe: 1 million dead
  • Afghanistan: 1.5 million dead
  • Latinamerica 150,000 dead


    The large numbers for the Soviet Union and China warrant explanation. In the Soviet Union a good percentage of that 20 million is thanks to Staliin, who most certainly would have recked havoc not matter what belief system he subscribed to. In China between 1959 and 1961, according to the official Chinese statistic released in 1988, about 20 million subsistence farmers did not subsist. They starved to death. They did so because of Mao Tse-tungs policies, such as collective farms.

     The statistic is revised upwards to 41 million people who died of starvation from 1959 to 1961 in our source for these numbers, Das Schwarze Buch des Kommunismus (The Black Book of Communism), Piper Verlag, 2000, p. 546. This book is a translation (by a six man team) of Le livre noir du communisme, 1997 by the author team of Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin. Another five persons contributed, and a section in the German edition about the DDR was written by Joachim Gauck and Ehrhart Neubert.

    The political left, stung, just a year later responded with Le Livre Noir du Capitalisme (The Black Book of Capitalism) edited by Gilles Perrault, 1998. The book consists of a series of essays from writers who treat what they view as the grossest depridations of capitalism. These range from the African slave trade (no argument there) to modern globalization, which seems quite a strectch. The 58 million dead from the two World Wars are attributed to capitalism, another long, long stretch. (Warfare appears to be pretty much of a constant over the milllennia, regardless of whatever political systems are in favor.)

    To the 58 million of the World Wars are added the death tolls from various colonial wars, ethnic conflicts, anticommunist repressions and famines. Therefore the grand total of deaths attributed to capitalism in the 20th century reaches 100 million. To consider both political systems as equally lethal is certainly a minority viewpoint. Regardless, running the risks of war and famine while free to climb the economic ladder seems considerably more attractive than running those same risks under repressive Communist "egalitarianism."


2 Wikipedia "List of bestselling books" (2011).


3 Examples that have made the national press (and are therefore easy to Google) include: L. Ron Hubbard was convicted in absentia in France for fraud (1978). The head of Scientology in Spain, charged with fraud, jumped a $1 million bail bond paid by the "church," fleeing to the U.S. (1988). Scientology leaders were convicted of embezzelment in France (2001). In Belgium charges were brought for forming a criminal organization (2008). Scientology was found guilty of fraud "as an organized gang" in France (2009).  In the U.S., more prominent in local press than nationally, physical abuse of members, in some cases leading to death, has been reported.

    Meanwhile Scientology happily enjoys its tax free status in the U.S. Although it is not even recognized as a charitable organization in the U.K., let alone as a religion, it has repeatedly managed to get 80% breaks on property taxes from local councils there. An egregious example is one valued at 1.3 million pounds from the City of London Corporation for the Scientology headquarters. The corporation claimed it could not rescind it, for fear of being sued! The High Court of Australia even ordered the state Victoria to accept Scientology as a religion! I had thought that Australian judges were smarter than Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, an ardent member of the Scientologist flock. Welcome to the 21st century.

4 As a CEO or entrepreneur, join the Scientologists for a month or two. Then over a disagreement in doctrine form your own Scientologist sect, a mini-schism in the church. Your "gentler, kinder" Scientology allows dual allegiance, dual worship. You are the minor diety or prophet, and the major diety is up to the individual's personal preference. The members of your new sect are the employees of your firm, which you now re-name Widgit Scientology Inc. and headquarter in the U.S. You "mirror image" your business model for tax reporting purposes after that of Scientology for selling its books and workshops worldwide. You arrange transfer pricing with your overseas operations so that they run at breakeven, with all profits accruing in the U.S. As a Scientology church (just as there is more than one Protestant church), you too pay no taxes in the U.S.

    Make sure that all employee earnings hit them tax-free as "promulgators of the faith." That will enable you to hire the best and the brightest, which will in turn lead to even better products and services. Not having to pay property or income taxes will let you dramatically undercut your competitors. You will offer premium quality at bargain-basement pricing. You will bury the competition!


5 Wikipedia, loc. cit.


Part II - The Strategy Bestsellers

from Not-Very-Good to Really Great?

    The strategy bestsellers are not really aimed at the general reading public. Rather they are aimed at people interested in running a company and in what makes companies succeed. They are often written in an English considerably more demanding than that of the other bestsellers. Therefore their "minnow" status in terms of sales figures by no means implies inferior quality. It does not imply the oppositie either! In fact, the strategy bestsellers are a surprisingly mixed bag.