The career advice book What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles has been enormously popular since it was first published in 1970. With over 10 million copies sold, it is one of the best-selling books of all time. But how many copies of What Color Is Your Parachute? have been sold over the years? Let’s take a closer look at the sales figures for this classic self-help book.
The Origin Story
Richard Nelson Bolles originally wrote What Color Is Your Parachute? in 1970 as a 168-page guide for job hunters. At the time, Bolles was an out of work Episcopal minister living in San Francisco. He noticed that many of his fellow unemployed friends struggled with the job search process, so he decided to write a book to help them.
Bolles self-published his book and began selling copies out of the trunk of his car around the Bay Area. What started as a humble photocopied book ended up revolutionizing the career development genre. In 2016, Time Magazine named What Color Is Your Parachute? one of the 100 most influential books of all time.
Sales in the 1970s
In the first year after its release in 1970, What Color Is Your Parachute? sold around 1,000 copies. For a self-published career advice book of the time, this was considered quite successful. However, sales really started to pick up over the next few years:
- 1971: 2,000 copies
- 1972: 4,000 copies
- 1973: 8,000 copies
In 1974, after four years in print, What Color Is Your Parachute? had sold 15,000 copies. Not a smash hit by publishing standards, but solid sales for an independent book focused on the niche job hunting market.
Getting Picked Up by a Publisher
The big breakthrough for What Color Is Your Parachute? came in 1975, when the book was picked up by a major publisher. Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, published an updated edition of Bolles’ book and helped bring it to a wider audience.
With a professional publishing house handling promotion and distribution, sales of What Color Is Your Parachute? began to climb more rapidly. By 1979, over 100,000 copies were in print. Bolles’ book had become the top-selling career guide in the US.
Explosive Growth in the 1980s
Throughout the 1980s, What Color Is Your Parachute? expanded from a popular book into a massive phenomenon. In this decade, millions of copies made their way into the hands of job seekers across America. Here are the approximate sales figures during the 80s:
- 1980: 500,000 copies
- 1985: 1 million copies
- 1989: 4 million copies
As you can see, sales absolutely skyrocketed over the course of just ten years. The 1980s cemented What Color Is Your Parachute? as America’s dominant career development book.
Continued Dominance: 1990s and Beyond
While sales have leveled off since their peak in the 1980s, What Color Is Your Parachute? has maintained its position as the best-selling and most trusted career book. Here are some approximate figures for recent decades:
- 1990s: 2 million copies sold per decade
- 2000s: 2 million copies sold per decade
- 2010s: 1.5 million copies sold per decade
Bolles continued writing new editions of What Color Is Your Parachute? each year up until his death in 2017 at age 92. His wife and son have continued his legacy, keeping the book up-to-date and relevant for today’s job market.
Total Copies Sold
Adding up the sales figures from all the decades, here are the approximate lifetime sales totals for What Color Is Your Parachute?:
|Decade||Approx. Copies Sold|
|Total||Over 10 million|
With over 10 million copies sold since 1970, What Color Is Your Parachute? stands as one of the top-selling books of all time. For comparison, other business and self-help books like Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People have each sold around 15 million copies. So What Color Is Your Parachute? is in very elite company.
More important than the raw sales figures is the cultural impact What Color Is Your Parachute? has had. Multiple generations of job seekers and career changers have turned to Richard Bolles’ book for wisdom and guidance.
Concepts like figuring out your “transferable skills” and determining your “ideal job fantasy” are now common ideas that originated from What Color Is Your Parachute?. Bolles’ self-inventory process fundamentally shaped how people think about their careers.
First published during the golden age of corporate jobs in America, What Color Is Your Parachute? has continued to provide relevant advice even as the economy and job market have changed dramatically. The rise of the internet, gig economy, and remote work have required constant adaptation from the author.
However, the core message of how to find meaningful work that utilizes your skills and interests has remained applicable through it all. What Color Is Your Parachute? is not just one of the best-selling career books of all time, it has helped revolutionize how millions of people relate to their jobs and career paths.
From humble origins as a locally produced pamphlet in 1970, What Color Is Your Parachute? has sold over 10 million copies and become one of the most influential books of the 20th and 21st centuries. Its author Richard Nelson Bolles passed away in 2017, but his lifetime body of work continues to shape the lives of countless job seekers and career changers. What Color Is Your Parachute? is truly a publishing phenomenon.