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.