World Book Night books defy the critics as sales grow

The majority of the books to be handed out tomorrow (5th March) as part of World Book Night have already received a sales boost in 2011. The figures will be a welcome fillip for the organisers, with founder Jamie Byng facing down criticism from independent bookshop owner Stephen Poulter on last night's Newsnight. The promotion launches tonight with a live event in London's Trafalgar Square, featuring authors such as Nick Cave, Margaret Atwood and Alan Bennett.

According to Nielsen BookScan data, 16 of the 25 books have enjoyed month on month sales boosts in February and 12 of the 25 have stronger sales in February 2011 than February 2010. In total, the 25 books have sold 53,000 copies in the first three weeks of last month, worth £322,000.

World Book Night launched its website yesterday (3rd March), a week after its planned date. The site experienced problems and was down for most of yesterday with users complaining of spam emails from the site being sent out. Aimee Johnston wrote on the site: "Please stop spamming my inbox - over 150 emails in last 10 minutes. Website organisation has not been your forte so far WBN and it's wearing very thin now." However, the site is working normally today.

Byng appeared on Newsnight with Waterstone's founder Tim Waterstone, and Poulter, with the presenter Kirsty Wark announcing that the book trade was "indeed in crisis", and that Waterstone's was "in retreat" from the high street: a view Waterstone said was not accurate and that he "resented".

But Poulter said there was a crisis caused by the "devaluation" of books and criticised the free give-away. He said: "We spend our entire day sharing our passion for books with our customers, but we have to be a business, we have to survive." But Byng said it was "readers" who sold books, and that WBN would be "driven by passion, and that is very infectious". Waterstone said he did not agree with Poulter, adding  he would like to see the promotion return next year, only better: "Jamie is doing a fantastic job getting books out there. The book market is not a finite market, introduce people to reading, and they'll then buy other books."

The Nielsen BookScan data is the first hint that Byng's view that sales will increase as a result of WBN may be validated. The numbers show Muriel Spark has received the biggest recent sales boost, with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie up 63% between February 2011 and January. Next is Alan Bennett's A Life Like Other People's, up 55%, and sales of Mohsin Hamed's Reluctant Fundamentalist up 48% the third biggest sales boost.

Year on year, Nigel Slater's Toast has the biggest sales growth between February 2010 and 2011, up 367%. John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is second with 106% growth and Seamus Heaney's New Selected Poems third in growth terms, up 102%.

Top WBN Books

Feb 2011 vs Jan 2011

1. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark +63%
2. A Life Like Other People's - Alan Bennett +55%
3. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamed +48%
4. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell +43%
5. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood +43%
6. Agent Zigzag - Ben MacIntyre +28%
7. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez +27%
8. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie +26%
9. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry +26%
10. Rachel's Holiday - Marian Keyes +24%

Feb 2011 v Feb 2010

1. Toast - Nigel Slater +367%
2. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré +106%
3. New Selected Poems - Seamus Heaney +102%
4. Agent Zigzag - Ben MacIntyre +92%
5. Beloved - Toni Morrison +77%
6. Stuart: A Life Backwards - Alexander Masters +40%
7. Killing Floor - Lee Child +34%
8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark +33%
9. The World's Wife - Carol Ann Duffy +29%
10. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry +21%