Inflated & talentless (not you, Jordan, you're worth it)

Publishers regret big-name signings whose books are expensive flops

By Anthony Barnes,Martin Hodgson
Sunday 05 November 2006 01:00

As the publishers waved their chequebooks, the line-up of actors, pop stars, sportsmen and politicians must have seemed irresistibly bankable. Now they are counting the cost after this summer's push of celebrity stories turned into some of publishing's most expensive flops.

After shelling out for deals worth up to £1m to buy into the celebrity memoir market, many have seen little more than a trickle of sales. Among the disasters is former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has shifted little over 1,000 copies of his book in the three weeks since publication, despite a deal worth £400,000.

The actor Rupert Everett, whose book had a £1m price tag, has sold only 15,000 copies of his memoir, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins. Ashley Cole's book, My Defence, has shifted only about 4,000 copies in the six weeks since it was published, in a deal worth £250,000. It makes the 37,000 sales of Wayne Rooney's book look like a triumph - until you bear in mind his deal is worth in the region of £4m for five books over the next 12 years.

The industry is desperately trying to plug into the appetite for celebrity memoirs after the unlikely publishing phenomenon of Jordan who sold 900,000 copies of her book, Being Jordan. Her publisher offered a £10,000 deal after other firms turned it down, but it is now a saturated market with about 60 new titles battling for a share of the market.

"The problem is over-publishing. Across the board, books are suffering," said David Wilson, editorial director of Headline, which published Cole's book. "They are not getting the shelf space in the shops. There are just too many celebrity books out there - and a lot of the major sports memoirs are basically celebrity books too. A few rise to the top, but you can never predict which they will be."

England's quarter-final departure from the World Cup was partly to blame for Rooney's poor showing, according to his publisher Michael Doggart of HarperSport, said: "When Wayne's book came out, people were still very disappointed with how England had played. If we'd have done well they would have been more likely to buy a book about it."

The biggest success in the football world is currently Steven Gerrard, who has now shifted 90,000 copies, in half the time that Rooney achieved his sales.

Publishing commentator Danuta Kean said that for many publishers, celebrity memoirs were something of a loss leader; it was important to show they were in the market for such books when other authors come along. "When HarperCollins paid huge amounts to Jade Goody it put down a marker to show that it would be interested in these celebrities," she said. "With Blunkett, it showed that Bloomsbury is in the market for big political books."

To earn back a £1m advance, publishers would need to sell at least 300,000 copies of a £20 hardback. But many publishers can take comfort from the money they make from the serialisation of bigger books. Ms Kean said: "Publishers may make some dodgy judgements but they can do the maths and know how to operate in a tough market."


Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far

DEAL: £4m for five books

SALES: 35,000 (published 27 July)

EXTRACT: "I was aware that my foot had landed between his legs... but it was an accident. I'll go to my grave and still maintain it was a complete accident."

David Blunkett

The Blunkett Tapes

DEAL: £400,000

SALES: 1,000 (published 16 Oct)

EXTRACT: "The reader will make his or her judgement regarding the part I played in my own downfall - and also... regarding my contribution to making a difference."

Ashley Cole

My Defence

DEAL: £250,000

SALES: 4,000 (published 21 Sept)

EXTRACT: "My love for Arsenal was soured by what I see as neglect and resentment... The truth is, I felt that Arsenal had done jack-shit... to hold on to me."


Living the Dream

DEAL: £300,000

SALES: 4,000 (published 26 Oct)

EXTRACT: "I paused at the top of the steps... Behind me was an eerie quietness, a deserted house, which for three weeks had been home."

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