The business of personal development books

Book review

They are at the top of the shelves in bookstores, and regularly in first place of sales on online sites. Wellness books would do more harm than good, according to the new survey of the magazine “60 Millions de consommateurs”.

The books of wellbeing, of personal development, pullulate these last years, but some make you more evil than good, it is what underlines the investigation of the journalist Adrian de San Isidoro, head of column equipment and leisures to the magazine 60 Millions of consumers, on this “dubious market of wellbeing”.

franceinfo: First of all, what are we talking about when we talk about wellness books?

Adrian de san Isidoro: It is, most often, books that give or claim to give keys to improve its physical or mental condition. Goals that the reader is supposed to be able to reach by changing bad habits or by applying a series of exercises on a daily basis. Breathing better, changing one’s diet, repeating phrases to convince oneself that one is the best. In short, just about anything and everything.

And it is a very buoyant market, you mention in your survey the figure of six million books sold between May 2021 and April 2022. Except that some of these books are not without danger…

Absolutely. Some personal development books promise quick and easy access to well-being, which is often unattainable by leafing through a 200 or 300 page book. In general, getting better takes time: months, even years. But many readers who have lost their bearings are seduced by the hope of a miracle solution. And it is this hope, which explains, among other things, the success of the personal development section.

For example, in your survey, the book of the Quebecer Lise Bourbeau, a bestseller in the field: The 5 wounds that prevent you from being yourself. The Miviludes, which observes sectarian phenomena, mentions several limits to what it proposes…

So a few elements of context to understand a little of Lise Bourbeau’s universe. This author, who founded her own movement “Listen to your body”, claims that 5 emotional wounds, rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal and injustice, are at the origin of all our ills. She goes even further, by establishing a link between these different wounds and our physical appearance.

If you are thin and your eyes are small, it is because you have been rejected by someone close to you. Your movements are rigid? It may be because you have suffered an injury of injustice. This method, which is not based on any serious science, is decried by the Miviludes, which fights against the sectarian phenomenon in France.

In the meantime there is a real business, well beyond the sales of books…

That’s right, the books sold for a handful of euros, are products of appeal to direct the reader towards conferences and other seminars billed at “an arm’s length”. Lise Bourbeau, through her movement “Listen to your body”, which claims thousands of members, proposes for example trainings in three phases, to become a wellness pro. The first two cost more than 2,800 euros!

Are there other controversial authors as Lise Bourbeau can be in this field?

Other very popular authors in the personal development section, such as Eckhart Tolle or Miguel Ruiz, offer excursions of all kinds. The latter seriously proposes, through his online teachings, to overcome “the debilitating fear of yes or no”. It’s written in black and white on his site. Or more classic, but very commercial: to heal relationships with loved ones to promote more awareness and joy.

If we know the risks, the more than limited methods of some authors, why are they still so numerous on the shelves of Fnac, Cultura and bookstores in general?

First of all, because the sector brings in more and more money. Between 2021 and 2022 alone, the turnover of personal development has grown by 17.5% to reach 71 million euros. A windfall on which distributors have no intention of sitting. Another reason is that in France today, there is no law preventing the publication of self-proclaimed therapists. In other words, almost any charlatan can be distributed in bookstores.

Not everything in this field of personal development is worthless. How can we recognize a “reliable” book?

A reliable book does not promise the moon or miracle solutions. And its author does not need to invoke a mystical or personal experience to give himself credibility: he has diplomas recognized by the State. If you have any doubts, go to the website of the National Union of Associations for the Defense of Families and Individuals Victims of Sects, which centralizes hundreds of articles on sectarian movements. Or on the website, which lists most of the “irrational beliefs”. Then type the author’s name in one of the two search bars: if results are displayed, it is better to leave the book on the shelf.