Decline and fall of the C-list female celebrity memoirs
Sunday 23 December 2007
The market in female celebrity biographies, which normally guarantee rich pickings at Christmas, has slumped as consumers turn their backs on C-list celebrity tales.
Publishing experts are predicting piles of stock for remainder bins and badly dented finances after a spectacular failure of the "decline-and-fall-and-plucky-fight-back" memoirs.
The success of Being Jordan signed for a 10,000 advance but going on to sell well over a million copies, led to a stampede of publishers signing female celebrities for a slew of "tell-all" memoirs.
But strong signs of a public backlash emerged last week, with high-street and internet retailers all agreeing the female memoir sector has seen the biggest losers of the year. Titles by Charlotte Church, Kelly Brook, Gail Porter, Leslie Ash and even Dame Helen Mirren have all fared badly.
Porter, who reportedly received a 150,000 advance from Ebury Press for Laid Bare: My Story of Love, Fame and Survival, published in September, had sold only 12,710 copies by the end of last week, according to market analyst Nielsen BookScan. It had taken a total of 144,876.75 at the tills, of which the publisher is likely to see less than half.
By contrast, the public appetite for salacious stories from Russell Brand has been huge: he has sold almost as many copies of his raunchy autobiography, My Booky Wook, in half the time.
Other celebrities have negotiated similar advances, according to industry experts, but also failed to live up to expectations in the run-up to Christmas. Kelly Brook sold only 1,461 copies of her book Life Style, while Leslie Ash's My Life Behaving Badly fared only slightly better, with 6,106 copies.
Guy Raphael, biography-buyer for the bookselling chain Borders, said: "Female biographies have all under-performed for us ... the likeability factor is key. Someone like Kelly Brook doesn't have the likeability factor of, say, someone like Kerry Katona."
One of the biggest problems facing publishers is that most Christmas book-buyers buy once a year, making second-guessing their taste impossible. But Christmas has the power to turn a publisher into a profitable winner or ailing loser traditionally, November and December are responsible for a third of the annual turnover of bookshop chains.
Celebrity autobiographies normally take by far the biggest slice of those sales, according to Jeremy Neate, head of research at Nielsen BookScan. "The market for autobiographies rockets at Christmas.
"Most of the year, autobiographies, which are dominated by celebrities, are worth about half a million a week. Then in September they rise to 1m a week, but by Christmas they are selling 10m a week."
Additional reporting by Yvonne Pardo
'Laid Bare: My Story of Love, Fame and Survival'
Copies sold: 12,710
'My Life Behaving Badly'
Copies sold: 6,106
Copies sold: 31,331
Copies sold: 1,461
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