A New Business Model and a New Bestseller?

Every so often a literary agent gets the chance to represent a book that is so unique in every way that it is a privilege to represent. Last week I was given the opportunity to handle such a property. However, I must confess, that I did not  immediately “get” the book, largely because it breaks most every rule of business book publishing. First a bit of history.


Two European authors—Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur—spent years putting together a stunning book on business models entitled BUSINESS MODEL GENERATION. The two authors had a great deal of help with the design and content of the book, as it was  co-authored by 470 Business Model Canvas practitioners from 45 countries, which in itself is highly unusual for any book, business or otherwise. The authors self-published two versions of the book, starting with a gorgeous 4-color hardbound version that lays flat when you set it down on a desk or table.

Some weeks ago I was contacted by author Alex Osterwalder asking if I would represent him and the book (I was referred to him by one of my other authors).  My first reaction was to refuse taking on the book. After all, even though the author self-published 5,000 copies of the book and sold them all through his website (businessmodelgeneration.com) , there was no “official” record of those sales so I knew that publishers would be quite skeptical of the book. And that was only one roadblock. There were also several other obstacles the book faced that would make selling it to a top notch publisher an uphill battle: 

* The authors were not based in the U.S., which often complicates matters

* The book has a “clunky,” awkward title (Business Model Generation does not roll smoothly off the tongue)

* The book has a very high price tag of $46.99, more than double the average price of a bestselling business book—and in an impossible economy to boot

So I did not take on the book. Then, some weeks after the authors sold out their 5,000 copies, they reprinted 10,000 copies of the book.  Now here is where things get really interesting. On February 3rd, 2010 the authors managed to get a third party seller to sell the book on Amazon. Finally, the authors would get some help in selling the book beyond their own websites (the other site is businessmodelalchemist.com). But once again, there were obstacles that made it very difficult to sell the book on Amazon:

* It’s not even Amazon selling the book on Amazon, but a third party vendor

* It is very difficult to even figure out the price of the book on (see the Amazon page for the book)

* There is absolutely no discount offered for the book (usually Amazon discounts books by 40 percent)

* The Amazon page is so bleak, it makes the book appear as if it is out of stock

One would think that all of those obstacles would derail the book, but a funny thing happened to the book on the way to the bestseller list. The minute the book became available on Amazon, buyers came out of the woodwork to purchase the book. Within 48 hours the book ranked as high as #74 on Amazon, an amazing feat for most any business book and especially this one. Since then, the two versions of the book have occupied two of the top 25 slots on Amazon’s list of bestselling management books every single day. This kind of success is so rare that I would classify this book as a “phenomenon” book, one that beats huge odds to become a bestseller (and this is before any publisher has entered the picture). This time I did not repeat my mistake and happily agreed to take on the project.

Last week I contacted a handful of my favorite editors/publishers and this time I was not surprised when every publisher I notified expressed interest in the book. Given the success of the self-published versions it was hardly surprising that interest among publishers would run high. By this time next week we should have found a great home for the book, with a publisher that sees the book for what it is: an exceptional product that is helping to build a community of people who appreciate all of the blood, sweat and tears that make this a one-in-a-million book and opportunity.


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