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Celebs bounce back

After a shocker in 2011 and a poor first half in 2012, the celebrities are makine a come-back this autumn.

Five of the current top 10 bestselling books in the UK are penned by famous faces: Jamie Oliver, Miranda Hart, Rod Stewart, Cheryl Cole and Bradley Wiggins, while a handful of others (the Hairy Bikers, Keith Lemon, Clare Balding, Nigel Slater, Paul O'Grady, Lorraine Pascale) can be found lower down this week's Official UK Top 50.

According to Nielsen BookScan, the official book sales monitors, a grand total of 30 memoirs released since June by celebrities from the world of entertainment or sport have sold 10,000 copies or more at UK bookshops in the second half of the year thus far—up from just 19 last year and up from 24 in the biggest year on record for the celebrity memoir, in 2008.

Four have taken more than £1m through bookshop tills: Cheryl Cole's Cheryl: My Story (Harper), Rod Stewart's Rod: The Autobiography (Century), Clare Balding's My Animals and Other Family (Viking), and Miranda Hart's semi-autobiographical Is it Just Me? (Hodder). Just one (Lee Evans' The Life of Lee) had achieved the feat by this point last year.

It is an impressive turnaround for a much-pilloried sector of the industry that suffered a dramatic slump in sales last year. Sales through BookScan's celebrity-dominated "Autobiography: The Arts" product category fell 45% year on year last year to a six-year low, with sales in the all-important pre-Christmas period down 60% on 2010.

This slump continued in 2012, perhaps unsurprisingly. After all, if the public weren't inspired by the hardback celebrity offerings in the run-up to Christmas last year, they were unlikely to be inspired when the paperback editions hit shelves over the following summer.

Since August, however, the sector has been in growth. Sales of celebrity memoirs in September were up marginally on last year, and in October were up a massive 70% year on year—against an overall decline of 7% in the print book sector as a whole. Sales in November are up approximately 30% year on year. In addition, sales through BookScan's "Autobiography: Sport" category, which features books by some of the summer's biggest stars (Wiggo, Jess, Victoria) are up approximately 40% year on year in November.

Of course, in such a jam-packed and competitive market, there will always be casualties. Bookshops have limited front of store space, and a number of famous faces are struggling to make an impact.

Releases by the likes of "Strictly Come Dancing" judge Bruno Tonioli, DJ Scott Mills, swimmer Ian Thorpe, and "The Only Way is Essex" star Chloe Sims have all sold fewer than 1,000 copies per week on average since release. In comparison, the memoirs of Rod Stewart, Bradley Wiggins, Miranda Hart and Paul O'Grady have all sold more than 10,000 copies per week on average and, in the case of Cheryl Cole, more than 20,000.

Of course, many publishers will have dug pretty deep into their pockets in order to get the famous faces to put pen to paper in the first place. Or, at least, their ghostwriters. No doubt many publishers are therefore a way off turning in a profit.

Ditto booksellers. A major reason behind the big sales is the fact they're so cheap. Supermarkets, in particular, love them, and slash r.r.p.s to bargain-bin prices upon release. Eleven of the current top 20 bestselling celeb-mems, for example, were discounted by more than 50% on average last week, with retailers giving away £1.7m in promotional discounting on at-r.r.p. sales of £3.3m.

Celebrity memoirs are bouncing back, but their big sales don't necessarily equate to big profits.

Top 10 Hardback Celeb-Mems (sales to 24th Nov 2012)
Miranda Hart's Is It Just Me? (Hodder) 161,500 copies sold
Cheryl Cole's Cheryl: My Story (HarperCollins) 150,500
Rod Stewart's Rod: The Autobiography (Cornerstone) 122,000
Clare Balding's My Animals and Other Family (Penguin) 99,500
Paul O'Grady's Still Standing: The Savage Years (Transworld) 87,500
Bradley Wiggins' My Time (Vintage) 48,500
Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall (Simon & Schuster) 45,000
David Walliams' Camp David (Penguin) 41,500
Tulisa Contostavlos' Honest (Headline) 40,000
Justin Bieber's Just Getting Started (HarperCollins) 39,000

Philip Stone is The Bookseller's charts editor.