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Why are sports books a tough sell?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by WaylonJennings, Dec 16, 2008.

  1. It seems that sports books rarely crack the NY Times best seller list, and even the ones by some of our biggest names rarely attract more than a handful of customer reviews over at Amazon (which would seem to be somewhat of an accurate proxy for sales).

    I can think of only a handful of sports books that went huge - "Moneyball," obviously. And that was a phenomenon - imagine if someone other than Michael Lewis had pitched an inside story of the Oakland A's, one of the sport's least glamorous franchises, and their use of statistics.

    Some others:
    "A Season on the Brink."
    "Friday Night Lights."
    Maybe a handful of others.

    So why? Because sports are so regionalized? And what elements does a sports book need to really take off?
  2. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    Dirt and sex!

    (see Bouton, J.)
  3. Rumpleforeskin

    Rumpleforeskin Active Member

    There's only so much you can write about the same topics, which you think people would like. Unless you have a fresh angle, not many people want to read about the same thing over and over again (unless you have a niche crowd). There's only so much you can write about Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, etc.
  4. I understand that part of it. But I'm always fascinated by which books seem to take off, and which ones seem to fizzle. "Moneyball," obviously, is the biggest example of a surprising runaway hit. I guess sports fans mostly like to read about the big names. But why does "Moneyball" go huge while a book like Feinstein's one last year about Mussina and Glavine, two New York pitchers, or Josh Praeger's book about the Shot Heard 'Round the World, do not?
  5. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Heck, how about the title? "The Last Amateurs" doesn't sound like it would jump off the shelf, but "Boys Will Be Boys: Days and Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty" (Paraphrasing the subtitle, can't remember exactly) is going to get at least a look every time.
  6. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    I'll try!

    Neither Mussina nor Glavine are riveting personalities . . . not to mention that JF/baseball isn't exactly an epic fit.

    Loved Praeger's book. LOVED it. But I'll be the first to acknowledge that it's gotten to the point that 1951 baseball
    non-fiction is no longer going to be a subject of mass recreational reading.
  7. I actually changed the post from "The Last Amateurs" because apparently, if Amazon's review numbers are to be trusted, it did sell. Way better than I would have expected a book about the Patriot League to sell.
  8. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    The ones that sell are the ones that will be read by people who aren't sports fans. "Moneyball" is essentially a business book about succeeding with fewer resources. "Friday Night Lights" is about the culture in Texas towns. People read "A Season on the Brink" because even non-sports fans are curious about Bobby Knight (not because he's a successful coach, but because he's an asshole). No one would have read it if it was about Mike Krzyzewski, because the average person isn't interested.

    If a sports book is really about sports, it will be very hard to get anyone but a small group of hardcore fans to read it.
  9. Rumpleforeskin

    Rumpleforeskin Active Member

    Well, first of all, Cowbell and oop bought like 5,000 copies of "Moneyball" each.

    In all seriousness, "Moneyball" was a brand new idea for a book. People want read about new things and how David can compete against Goliath. "Moneyball" probably took off because word of mouth as well. If someone says a book is good, you might go out and buy it and then you'll recommend it to someone else, especially if you like the inner workings of basbeall.

    B_H nailed it in saying both Mussina and Glavine aren't riveting personalities. No one really wants to read about these two guys unless something major happened in their life or there was some major breakthrough by an author.

    Unless it's a HUGE breakthrough about an athlete or team, people, I believe, are more apt to read about a moment or era than a single player, unless he/she is an icon.
  10. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    Yep. With very rare exceptions, the book has to transcend the game. Both The Long Season and Ball Four did this, for the
    obvious reasons.
  11. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    It's not that they don't sell, becasue the genre is sales healthy, but true breakout book are rare., just as they are about, say, rock music. Many reasons - split markets (i.e., Red Sox fans don't want to read about Yankees, footbnall fans don't like baseball, etc.), a constituency that increasingly prefers to watch or listen, books that are narrow in scope, etc. Breakout books generally appeal to the people who might just read one sports book a year, if that. Moneyball was broad in that way, and never underestimate the importance of an already high profile writer who gets the big marketing machines behind him. That's why so many big selling sports books are written by cross-over writers (Halberstam, Cramer, Maraniss, Will, etc.) Another factor is that women buy the vast percentage of all books, albeit fmany for men, and to sell a big best-selling sports book you have to appeal to women who are buying for son/husband/father.
  12. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Great last point, In Exile. I've always thought there was a glut of golf books and that's probably why -- those end up as gifts for Dads. I know I bought "Who's Your Caddy?" for my Dad.
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