Hard times for the hardback industry

Sales figures show 2009 was a miserable year for top authors

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."

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea