Hard times for the hardback industry
Sales figures show 2009 was a miserable year for top authors
Saturday 19 December 2009
Some of the biggest names in publishing have had a lousy year, posting spectacular sales falls in the run-up to Christmas.
The biggest decline was felt by Patricia Cornwell, the American crime writer whose Dr Kay Scarpetta series has shifted millions of copies worldwide since it was launched in 1990. Cornwell has seen sales of her works slump 50 per cent compared to this time last year.
According to the figures from Nielsen BookScan published in this week's The Bookseller, Ben Elton has seen a 45 per cent drop in hardback sales from last year, despite the publication of the comedian-turned-novelist's topical novel Meltdown, which was heavily hyped in the media.
The publishers of veteran horse racing thriller writer Dick Francis saw his sales drop by a quarter while Cecelia Ahern and James Patterson both plunged by a fifth. Former SAS soldier Andy McNab posted a drop of 15 per cent while Robert Harris has been flat and 15 per cent down compared to 2007, when The Ghost was published. Even stalwart stars such as John Grisham and Maeve Binchy have registered falls.
But while some lose, other names are thriving despite the harsh economic climate. The biggest winner this year was Dan Brown whose long-awaited The Lost Symbol sold more than a million copies in the UK alone since it was released in September. The master of pseudo-religious intrigue joined JK Rowling and Delia Smith in notching up seven-figure sales in hardback.
Also enjoying healthy figures is Martina Cole – 30 per cent up this year after the publication of Hard Girls. Her personal brand was boosted by the television adaptation of The Take earlier in the year. The cross-over vampire writer phenomenon Stephanie Meyer continues apace. Sales of books by Adrian Mole creator Sue Townsend were up 20 per cent.
Despite the impact of the recession, the data shows that £133m was spent on fiction titles in the three months up to the end of November – up 14 per cent. Even when the Dan Brown effect is excluded this reveals an upturn of 3.3 per cent on the same period in 2008.
Publishers agree this has been a difficult year. Alison Barrow of Transworld, which published Ben Elton and Andy McNab, said the travails of their leading authors can be explained by deeper problems within the publishing world as a whole. The industry lost some of the most important hardback retailers this year when Borders and Woolworths disappeared from the high street.
"Ben Elton is not on his own in this regard," Ms Barrow said. "It is symptomatic of sales across the board. It is no secret in the book trade that hardback fiction has become very polarised."
But Liz Thompson, co-founding editor of BookBrunch, the online daily news service for the book industry, cites a more straightforward reason: "Writers go in and out of fashion. And you have to remember that the big numbers for many books of recent years were extra impulse sales. When money gets tight the business of just dropping a couple of books in the supermarket trolley stops."
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 2 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
MasterChef, TV review: The final climaxed in a frenzy of herbs and hyperbole
Male student sues Columbia University for 'gender-based harassment' after alleged 'Mattress Performance' rape victim Emma Sulkowicz went public with claims
MasterChef 2015: Simon Wood named winner
Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove