Keith Richards proves that there's life in the celebrity memoir yet
After dismal sales last year, autobiographies by household names are once again flying off the shelves.
Sunday 12 December 2010
Less than a year ago critics were offering the last rites and bemoaning dismal sales. But rumours of the death of the celebrity memoir have been greatly exaggerated. The latest sales figures suggest that public appetite for autobiographies is stronger than ever. Sales of the top 20 best-selling celebrity memoirs published since June are up 56 per cent over the same period last year, despite the harsh economic climate.
The difference between then and now, publishing sources said, is the calibre of those hawking their memoirs. This has been helped by marketing campaigns that have learnt the lessons of past failures.
According to figures from Nielsen BookScan, sales by household names such as the presenter Paul O'Grady (The Devil Rides Out: 169,656 copies), the comedian Michael McIntyre (Life and Laughing: 169,211 copies) and Rolling Stone Keith Richards (Life: 121,020 copies) – all in the past six months – have helped to drag this sector of the book trade out of the doldrums.
Even Katie Price, hawking her fourth memoir in six years, has sold more than 85,000 copies in two months with You Only Live Once. Experts said relentless coverage in the red tops and on reality TV throughout the year has helped to drive sales.
The unexpected success of Peter Kay's first biography in 2006 started a fad in celebrity memoirs, as publishers scrambled for the next big signing, buying up even D-listers. Last year proved a low-water mark, however, with critics bemoaning that the market had become saturated.
Philip Stone, the charts editor at The Bookseller, said: "In 2010 there seems to be a much higher calibre of celebrity – such as Michael Caine and Judi Dench – plus there are big memoirs from much-loved TV celebrities from hit shows, such as Dannii Minogue, Susan Boyle and Cheryl Cole."
Many books, such as Richards's autobiography, have benefited from newspaper serialisation. Only Jamie Oliver's latest cookbook and Guinness World Records kept him from reaching the top of the charts.
"In this economic climate, you've got to use everything you can to get people to notice whatever you're doing," said Jon Howells, of Waterstone's. "Russell Brand did 10 events in five days this year. Three years ago, he did only one event."
Yet in some cases, no matter how many promotional junkets are laid on, the books just won't sell. In the past three months, the former Countdown mathematical wizard Carol Vorderman has managed to shift a paltry 3,474 copies, while the actress and former wife of Jude Law, Sadie Frost, has sold just 1,922.
Liz Thomson, the co-founder of the book trade website BookBrunch, was dismissive of their efforts: "What have Sadie Frost or Carol Vorderman really done? It doesn't seem to me that either of those people has very much to say. The problem is that publishers have got into the habit over the past few years of blowing up magazine articles into books, and mostly they don't work, simply because there isn't a story."
It All Counts
Advance More than £100,000
What they say "The pace is irregular, and Carol chooses her warts carefully: two failed marriages get only a line each." Independent on Sunday
Advance "Five-figure sum"
What they say "Gripping, for most of the wrong reasons."
You Only Live Once
Advance Kept secret
What they say "There's a kind of candid integrity here that makes you warm to Katie Price despite your better judgement." The Mail on Sunday
The Devil Rides Out
What they say "The Liverpudlian comedian has lived such a full life and has more than paid his showbiz dues. In his hands [the tales] are tender and entertaining." The Independent
The Fry Chronicles
Advance Kept secret
What they say "Captures the voice, the tone, the world-view of [its] originator with utter fidelity. If you like [his] company at all, you will like it wholesale." The Independent
Copies sold (past 6 months) 121,020
What they say "The 500-plus pages of Life throb with energy, pulsate with rhythm and reverberate with good stories." The Independent
Life & Laughing
What they say "In a book as bouncy as his act he wraps up his life in noticeable embroidery." The Independent
Through My Eyes
What they say "Very fascinating it is too, in its dementedly bland way." The Daily Telegraph
Memoirs of a Fruitcake
What they say "Showing off aside, the story gallops along, even if you are a little bit sick in your mouth." The Independent on Sunday
What You See Is What You Get
What they say "The style – if that is not too grand a word – is typically blunt and no one will be left in any doubt about his likes and dislikes." The Sunday Telegraph
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