Last week The Bookseller published its annual ranking of the bestselling titles of the year, combining publisher supplied e-book volume numbers with their respective Nielsen BookScan figures.
The top selling title of the year was John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which sold 392,522 copies in e-book format to add to the 871,815 copies it sold (across all editions) in print. The totals gave it a combined print and digital sale of 1.26m, more than 300k ahead of its nearest competitor, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl at 939k. The two titles, both published in May 2012, benefited from popular film adaptations released during 2014. For Gone Girl it was a second year of success (it topped the combined chart last year), while for The Fault in Our Stars it was further evidence of how its audience has widened: it was 24th in the combined list year time around with digital a quarter of its total sales.
Green's title has the additional accolade of featuring atop both the combined chart, and the print only version published in January, with Gone Girl fourth in that version, behind David Walliam's Awful Auntie, and Minecraft: The Official Construction Handbook—both of which had negligible digital sales. By contrast Jill Mansell's The One You Really Want and Harlan Coben's The Woods make the combined chart's top 10 with scarcely any print numbers, thanks to some aggressive price discounting of the e-edition at points during the year (though available to download for free, the titles were bought from the publisher by the retailer, we are assured).
A film adaption, followed by low prices, may result in high sales of digital books, but equally important (for now) is gaining an adult readership. As my colleague John Lewis pointed out in The Bookseller last week, Green's cross-over appeal meant digital accounted for 31% of his overall sale in 2014, similar to that seen by Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Insurgent (HarperCollins Children’s Books), which charted in 16th and 29th place respectively, and which saw more than 40% of their overall sales coming from e-editions.
In contrast, “e” sales of other children’s and YA novels in the ranking were extremely low. Zoe Sugg’s Girl Online (Penguin), David Walliams’ Awful Auntie (HCCB) and Jeff Kinney’s The Long Haul (Puffin) were among the biggest print titles of the year, yet digital sales did not contribute more than 5% of any of their overall sales figures.
Once again non-fiction failed to make a significant impact on the combined chart, thanks to low digital sales of many non-fiction books. Titles such as Eric Lomax’s The Railway Man (216,458 copies sold across all editions) and Martin Sixsmith’s Philomena (214,159 copies), both of which were associated with film adaptations, sold more than a third of their total volume in “e”, but elsewhere print dominated. Just 11 non-fiction titles make the top 50 for a combined digital sale of 417k, the same number as last year when the aggregaate digital total was 401k.
There are other similarities with last year's combined chart. Back then Gone Girl was number one with a total sales of 1.04m copies, selling more than 400,000 copies as an e-book, a feat achieved by only two other titles--Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (Canongate, 453,000) and Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man . . . (Hesperus, 463,000) in that year. Once again price proved to the decisive factor in the top-selling e-books. Life of Pi and Hundred . . . owed a large portion of their huge sales to membership of Sony’s controversial 20p promotion, price-matched by Amazon.co.uk, which ended in March 2014 (the latter is still selling well, however, across both formats, appearing at 47th on the 2014 chart). In 2014's chart, again only three titles sold more than 400k copies in digital--Gone Girl, and the free(isn) titles The One You Really Want and The Woods, which both topped sales ahead of 500k.
In total in 2014, e at 6.8m was 36% of the chart's overall volume of 18.8m units. In 2013, e at 5.5m was 30% of the overall volume of 18.2m. The represents growth of 22% in digital at the expense of print, a good return at the top for e-books and demonstration that at the commercial end of things there remains a strong digital current. And those extra 600k units sold represent growth overall of 3%, roughly in line with what we reported earlier this year.
How did this chart compare with the e-book charts put out by prominent e-book retailers? On Apple’s iBooks charts, in fiction, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin) sold the most units in 2014, followed by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Orion) in second position. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James, was the third highest-selling title of the year for iBooks in the UK, with the second and third instalments in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, coming in at the sixth and eighth positions. J K Rowling’s pseudonymous Robert Galbraith title The Cuckoo’s Calling (Little, Brown) sold the fourth most units. Gone Girl was also named the top-selling e-book of 2014 for e-books by Sainsbury’s. The platform also revealed that the second most bought title was The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson (Head of Zeus), then The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (Little, Brown). Kobo reported that One Cold Night by Katia Lief was its top seller, ahead of Gone Again by Doug Johnstone, Gone Girl, and The Fault in Our Stars.
Top Five Books of 2014 (e-book sales, print, and combined sales)
1 The Fault in Our Stars Green, John Penguin May-12 392,522 871,815 1,264,337
2 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix May-12 409,113 529,602 938,715
3 Awful Auntie Walliams, David HarperCollins Children's Sep-14 19,493 553,921 573,414
4 Minecraft: The Official Construction Handbook Egmont Mar-14 0 548,017 548,017
5 The One You Really Want Mansell, Jill Review Feb-08 540,648 39 540,687
The Bookseller, 13th February 2015
Top Five Books of 2013 (e-book sales, print, and combined sales)
1 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix May-12 411,163 627,097 1,038,260
2 Inferno Brown, Dan Transworld May-13 328,960 640,676 969,636
3 My Autobiography Ferguson, Alex Hodder & Stoughton Oct-13 44,292 803,084 847,376
4 The Hundred-Year-Old Man... Jonasson, Jonas Hesperus Jul-12 462,608 223,966 686,574
5 The Fast Diet Mosley & Spencer Short Books Jan-13 174,129 497,200 671,329
The Bookseller, 7th February 2014