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Self-help addiction a $8.5B/year business

Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: SHAM Scam -- The Self-Help and Actualization Movement has become an $8.5-billion-a-year business. Does it work?

I remember thinking a lot of these same thoughts during the self-help mini-bubble of the late 80s/early 90s.

The "over and over" part is the key to understanding the "why" of what investigative journalist Steve Salerno calls the Self-Help and Actualization Movement (SHAM). In his recent book Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless (Crown Publishing Group, 2005), he explains how the talks and tapes offer a momentary boost of inspiration that fades after a few weeks, turning buyers into repeat customers. While Salerno was a self-help book editor for Rodale Press...extensive market surveys revealed that "the most likely customer for a book on any given topic was someone who had bought a similar book within the preceding eighteen months." The irony of "the eighteen-month rule" for this genre, Salerno says, is this: "If what we sold worked, one would expect lives to improve. One would not expect people to need further help from us--at least not in that same problem area, and certainly not time and time again."

Surrounding SHAM is a bulletproof shield: if your life does not get better, it is your fault--your thoughts were not positive enough. The solution? More of the same self-help--or at least the same message repackaged into new products. Consider the multiple permutations of John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus -- Mars and Venus Together Forever, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, The Mars and Venus Diet and Exercise Solution -- not to mention the Mars and Venus board game, Broadway play and Club Med getaway.

TOPICS: Books, Links

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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