Sales of celebrity memoirs take a nosedive


Nick Duerden
Friday 16 December 2011 01:00

All is not well in the world of the celebrity memoir. Sales are a shadow on last year, and of the glut of 2011's not-quite reveal-alls – the Rob Brydons, the Alan Partridges, the James Cordens, the Lee Evans – only the Evans has shifted a publisher-pleasing amount. But even his 133,000 copies sold is well below last Christmas's leading biog, Stephen Fry's chart-busting The Fry Chronicles.

Could this signal their ultimate demise? Probably not, no, says The Bookseller's Philip Stone, but it does suggest an over-saturation in the market. Even notional celebrities land publishing deals these days – and, along with them, very often the services of a ghostwriter – but do the books themselves warrant genuine merit?

"The critics may lambast them," says Stone, "but the Amazon reader reviews suggest that people still like them."

There is an inherent problem with a celebrity writing their own tome. According to biographer Christopher Bray, "you have to be more intelligent, heartfelt, candid and open than anyone I have ever met to write about yourself with objectivity. Truth is, we simply don't know ourselves very well."

Bray, whose works on Michael Caine and Sean Connery are as much social and political history as they are career appraisals, is an increasingly rare breed these days, his peers mostly writing only about the dead (see Claire Tomalin's recent account of Charles Dickens, and Walter Isaacson's of Steve Jobs). But while the literary biography will always make for a more fulfilling read, they still lack the celebrity's effortless clout.

"In 2006, Peter Kay sold 850,000 copies of his memoir," says Philip Stone. "And several other celebrities have sold really well since. So even when there are dips, such as this year, publishers will simply learn from their mistakes, and then find another star willing to tell their story."

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