Booksellers report strong December trading and reveal surprise Christmas hits

Booksellers report strong December trading and reveal surprise Christmas hits

Booksellers are reporting “beautifully busy” trading in the lead up to Christmas, with many on track for a much better festive period than last year, although there are concerns new Covid-19 measures could affect last-minute shopping.

Among the familiarity of bestsellers from the likes of Richard Osman, Paul McCartney and Bob Mortimer, stores have also been reporting a number of suprise Christmas hits with titles from indie publishers such as Profile proving popular.

In London, Chrissy Ryan’s Islington business BookBar has continued to be “really busy” this month. Author signings and events at the shop have boosted sales of titles by writers including Natasha Lunn, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Natasha Brown and Emily Itami. Non-fiction is also selling well with Stanley Tucci and Will Smith’s memoirs flying off the shelves, plus the store's own festive gift guide. Emily Ratajkowski's My Body is also proving a Christmas hit, with sales hiking after she visited the shop, in an event with her UK publisher Quercus. 

She added: “I'm unsure as to how the next few weeks will pan out. We are planning to be open until 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and here's hoping that London continues to be full of the festive cheer we've seen so far. The supply chain issues haven't hit us too hard yet — we stocked up with all the titles in our gift guide and I'm so pleased I made that decision as we have been selling through them each book brilliantly."

Waterstones also reported “tremendous sales” of Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics (Allen Lane) since its release, recently boosted by its Book of the Year 2021 status. Julia and the Shark (Orion Children’s Books) has also proved a success, while other well-performing titles include The Appeal by Janice Hallett (Profile Books), Charlotte Higgins’ Greek Myths (Jonathan Cape) and Storyland by Amy Jeffs (riverrun).

The chain said it is in a good position with stock and doesn’t expect to be affected by supply chain issues. “Our bookshops have been steadily getting busier,” a spokesperson said. 

However, the latest government restrictions have impacted some of the city centre branches, notably those in central London, with staff experiencing “lower footfall than normally expected.  Outside the big city centres, however, sales and the number of customers continues to build very nicely and we remain confident of a strong Christmas season," the spokesperson said.

Emma Corfield-Walters said Book-ish in the Welsh town of Crickhowell is “beautifully busy” at the moment and titles are selling well across the board, with various almanacs proving popular. “Footfall remains steady but we are seeing a big rise in web sales from across the UK,” she said. 

Touching on the supply chain, she said she’d been unable to get hold of Still Life by Sarah Winman (Fourth Estate) and some of the aforementioned almanacs, which is proving “most frustrating”. 

A range of titles are Christmas bestsellers at Blackwell's, including Angela Harding's A Year Unfolding (Little, Brown), Bob Mortimer's autobiography (Simon & Schuster) and Richard Osman's second novel, The Man Who Died Twice (Viking). Additional titles that have "taken off wonderfully" include The Wordhord by Hana Videen and The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, both from Profile Books.

The chain reports footfall is "holding up nicely" in branches across the UK, and despite acknowledging the "choppy" supply chain, Blackwell's is not currently experiencing any major issues. A spokesperson said: "We have been ordering robustly and confidently throughout and we have actually not had to contend with as many issues as one might have thought. A small handful of titles have come in and out of availability, but we’ve been working closely with publishers to ensure that we have the best possible supply at all times."

At The Edinburgh Bookshop, Marie Moser is selling a “very broad range” of titles, with crime performing “very well” and sales tracking just ahead of last Christmas. “As well as the predictable biographies, The Cat Who Saved Books (Pan MacMillan) is going very well as is a new edition of R L Stevenson's Edinburgh from Manderley Press,” Moser said.

Tomás Kenny, owner of Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway, reported “strong” footfall this December, and predicts better sales than last year. The shop has recently seen a large increase in sales of Irish books, with Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Faber) and Fintan O’ Toole’s We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 (Head of Zeus) proving popular as Christmas gifts.

However, he added: "As fears about Omicron increase, the numbers coming in have fallen slightly. We are unsure what to expect for the next two weeks, but we are very hopeful it will be busy,” he said.

Delays in the supply chain are causing the shop problems with a few of its usual distributors, so Kenny diverted all orders to Gardners and Argosy for December. “We are guaranteed delivery quickly there but it thankfully hasn’t been as much of a problem as we feared a couple of months ago," he said.