The following article about Joe Karbo is excerpted from an interview entitled, “The Creators” from the now defunct publication, The Capitalist Reporter, circa 1975.
But was the mail order magnate who penned The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches, himself lazy?
Here’s some rare info about this direct marketing legend.
The wonder is that Joe Karbo works at all anymore. He is the millionaire author, publisher and mail-order advertising salesman of The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches, after all. With more than 400,000 copies of the paperback sold in this country alone at $10 each – versus 50 cents per copy production cost – Karbo can afford to take it easy. Foreign markets now have begun to open up in a big way.
Karbo, 50-year-old son of a Russian Jewish immigrant who worked as a tailor in Los Angeles, now spends about half the year in LA, where he maintains a posh suite of offices overlooking the Pacific to tend to his various ventures that make him $300,000 a year. The rest of the time, he and the family (wife and nine children, although not all the kids still live at home) are at a sumptuous retreat in Washington State, about 50 miles south of Olympia – an ideal place to be, well, lazy.
The trouble is, Karbo doesn’t like being lazy. “The idea of being lazy is appealing, but doing it, or rather not doing anything, is not my idea of a way to pass the time,” he says.
Karbo, who got his start selling in television, sails his boat, rides a bicycle for exercise, and aggressively pursues a career as an actor with amateur companies in the LA area. In fact, when interviewed by Free Enterprise, he was waiting to read for a part in a play scheduled for production by the Funky Cake Company in Newport Beach. He also appeared in stage productions at the well-known Pasadena Playhouse.
“I loved acting,” Karbo admits. “I began in show-biz after all.” For 12 years, he and his wife, Betty, were host and hostess in Los Angeles on what he believes was the nation’s first all-night TV talk show. Under an agreement with the station, the couple used some commercial time to plug products that they themselves had stocked and were selling: vitamins, Christmas ornaments, cosmetics, anything that would sell. To help the slower-moving inventory, Karbo took to mail-order.
The roof fell in 1962, on the day the station was bought by Metromedia. The new management decided to terminate the arrangement, probably fearful that the FCC would take a dim view of it. Karbo suddenly was unemployed, and he, Betty, and their kids lived in a run-down house in a shabby neighborhood. Transportation was a ratty Falcon that Karbo had refinanced.
He owed $50,000, which he didn’t have, and his lawyer suggested that he file for bankruptcy. Karbo disagreed.
Instead, he called his creditors together and told them he couldn’t paid what he owed. “I told them, if you don’t believe I’ve gone bust, force me into bankruptcy. If it turns out I have got a lot stashed away, you’ll recover it and maybe put me in jail. If you believe me, let me do what I do best: sell merchandise. You have my word, I’ll pay you back.” I just didn’t want to feel that every time I got a few dollars ahead that somebody would attach it.”
It took Karbo 90 minutes to persuade his creditors to see things his way and give him nine years to repay what he owed.
After some soul searching and the selling off of some inventory and acquisition of others, Karbo — always a deft hand at ad writing — turned to the how-to book game. It was the decision that led to his fortune.
A year and a half after getting time from his creditors, he dashed off The Power of Money Management, or, How to Get Out of Debt in 90 Minutes Without Borrowing.
Wheeling and dealing through credit from a printer and for newspaper ad space, he sold 100,000 copies and paid off his creditors in less than three years. By then, it was 1965.
Now, Joe Karbo really went to work, penning The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches. It’s a book in which he focuses at the outset on what he terms Dyna/Psych which can be (and has been) described as a mélange of TM (transcendental meditation), positive-thinking, and cybernetics. Part two delves into the tricks and nuances of the mail order game (which might make it alone worth the $10 price per copy). It is now being sold in England and Australia, and is being translated into Japanese. Karbo has diversified since. In addition to his financial publication corporation, he has formed Karbo Advertising, Northwestern Pharmaceuticals, F.P. Schools, and a company to direct international marketing. His fondest love remains publishing, and he maintains a staff of some 40 people to help him look after the business.
“I like to think, for all the help I get, and it’s considerable, that I’m a one man think-tank… with a lot of help from my wife, who spends most of her time in business in figuring out the best way to handle what we’ve got. She’s good at it.” He lights up his favorite cigar, a Bering, and speaks of the future.
He is interested, in addition to acting, in prison reform. He has made visits to San Quentin, and would like to devote more time to improving the conditions in prisons. On credit, he sells his books to the prisoners who ask for them; they can pay him back whenever they can, he says.
“But most of all, I’m a family man. Always have been. And I love the mail order business. Betty and I, now, we’ve got one cooking that I figure will be a real winner – a new book.”
“Tentatively,” says Joe Karbo, it’s called “The Hell With The Kids, What About You And Me, Baby.”