The 4-Hour Chef is a NYT, WSJ, and USA Today Bestseller! But There is Mystery and Intrigue…

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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.

THANK YOU!!!

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!

Posted on: November 30, 2012.

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128 comments on “The 4-Hour Chef is a NYT, WSJ, and USA Today Bestseller! But There is Mystery and Intrigue…

  1. Sweet! Congratulations to you Tim and your team. Can anyone recommend a good article explaining why all those bookstores boycott Tim’s book? I know it has something to do with Amazon being a publisher but why is it so important for the bookstores who is the publisher? Is it because Amazon pays less money to the bookstores or is it because so many copies of the book are digital? or is it that the bookstores are afraid that Amazon will eventually take their job away?

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  2. This book is great! The hard back is a great format for it. I want to get the Kindle copy too so that I can make progress, but for now, pretty pictures and great quality is the name of the game!

    I went into Barnes and Noble this weekend to get 4HB as a gift for my dad’s 61st. I wanted to give the clerk a hard time and ask for the 4HC, but realized she can’t really do anything?

    Does anyone know who we can send a request to to have Barnes & Noble stock the book? Do they have a sourcing department? Who actually made the call to lock-out the 4HC?

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  3. Tim,

    When will the iBooks version be available to purchase? I’ve got a spot waiting anxiously on my virtual bookshelf next to 4HWW and 4HB :)

    Best Regards — Chris

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  4. Tim,

    I just read the section in 4HC entitled, “In Search Of The Perfect Cup Of Coffee”. You just made my day.. no my month with that one, brotha. About to order the Aeropress and hand grinder right now!

    David

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  5. So my other comment never got through Moderation. But I re-downloaded the Kindle Edition on my iPad and I have Photo’s/Tables now. So I’m not sure if it was a Kindle thing or you updated the book — whichever – I’m happy now.

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  6. Congrats Tim. Love the way you always push the boundaries and never accept the norm. F$%k Bill O’Reilly and his dwarfed book sales compared to 4HC.

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  7. Michael – B&N and many bookstores will not be carrying Amazon books because of their price-fixing, return policies, and state tax avoidance – all of which have dealt critical body blows to brick-and-mortar bookstores (who, for example, contribute to the states they are in by paying both state income and sales tax; Amazon does not, except when forced to by lawsuit. Amazon can undercut bookstores on price because of this. They also undercut because they force publishers to sell to them on extremely favorable terms; so favorable that some publishers LOSE money on every book sold through Amazon). I can’t link, but c/net has a very comprehensive article outlining Amazon’s predatory practices. I’m a Tim fan and I bought the book, but I’m disappointed he has allowed a narrative to exist that suggests his book has been banned because of content. It hasn’t; it’s entirely because of Amazon.

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    • 1. I’ve never had a problem returning anything to Amazon.

      2. As for Internet taxes, you don’t have to pay unless you’re doing business within a state that you have a physical presence in.

      3. As for price fixing.. I love Amazon’s prices. Which makes me like them and spend even more money.

      Btw, Doesn’t the U.S. govt already force enough money out of it’s citizens? I mean, you either pay almost half of your money or they come to your house with guns and lock you in a cage. And then they don’t even use the money the way the people want it used. i.e. Military Industrial Complex

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  8. Dude, Tim, you’re badass, and your new book is badass just like the other ones. I’m a current peace corp volunteer living in rural Swaziland (think thatch roof hut and dusty shit everywhere hah) and your latest book that literally cost me 20 bucks beyond the cost of the actual book because I have to pay for downloading data here, but its still totally worth it. I’ve been teaching the Swazi family I live with lots of stuff from the book. They love it and so do I. Keep on dominating life and keep on inspiring us. Ps. If you’re down in south africa which is by Swaziland, ill show you how we kill chickens, goats, and cows here. Think of spears! Peace

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  9. is the book only available as either a hardback or a kindle version? i want to be able to read the book off of my macbook air. otherwise, i’ll get the hardback version. i really don’t want to buy a kindle until i have extra cash to do so. i spend enough cash on this frakin’ macbook air.

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    • I don’t own a kindle either, but amazon provides a kindle reader free download in a mac version. And a pc version (which I have). And android, blackberry, iPad, cloud reader, etc etc. Just search ‘kindle for mac download’ and go for it.

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  10. I just picked up The 4-Hour Chef. It is intriguing and I look forward to reading all of it. I salute you for printing it in the USA. It is a beautiful book. One suggestion. You pack lots of information in your footnotes. I would recommend that in future printings to make them easier to read. Grey on white is a great designer style but VERY hard for many people to read especially if your eyes are older than 50. Thanks.

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  11. Tim, we met you in Buenos Aires when you were learning tango with Alicia Monte. This was a couple months before you competed and won La Mundial at La Rural. My Elisa was doing a sabbatical in Buenos Aires and we invested in parking spaces for international motorcycle over landers, after riding through 6 South American countries.

    If you ever need, which I doubt, bona fides regarding your unbelievable dancing abilities, we Dr. Elisa Rosales and I Lic. Edward George, will be most pleased to promote you and your best selling book – 4 hour work week expanded and updated. We just returned from riding our motorcycles from Spain around Turkey and back to Spain and from Buenos Aires across the Andes to Chile and back – and have once again established ourselves as permanent foreign residents of Argentina with Argentine DNI to prove it.

    Eat, Drink and Be Careful Ed (xfiltrate)

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  12. Can hemp protein powder or items made of buckwheat be incorporated into the slow-carb diet? I know they both have carbs, but they are also good protein sources.
    Slow-carb newbie, here.

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  13. Tim, I cam across the Video “PressPausePlay” and watched a snip it of Seth Godin talking about self publishing his book which made me think of you and what your doing with The 4-Hour Chef. I believe that most people have no idea what you are doing for the next generation of writers. By the way, I’m in the printing business and I know what The 4-Hour Chef would cost to print and all
    I can say is hats off to Amazon because no other publisher would ever think of spending that kind of money. Thank you for opening up the doors and letting us all in.

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