Booksellers are preparing for another blockbuster summer of sales, with a second successive year of “event publishing” shoring up the industry in the sunny season, and one retailer declaring “we feel like we are winning again”.
Last year saw print book sales rise by 7% in value (to £339m) and 3.3% in volume (to 44.7 million units) year on year in the 12 weeks between June and August, following the surprise releases of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (William Heinemann) and E L James’ Grey (Arrow). This summer promises more lucrative publishing, led first and foremost by fevered anticipation of the “eighth story” in the Harry Potter series, the playscript of “The Cursed Child Parts I and II”, written by J K Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. The title is due for release hours after the first show, at 00.01 GMT on 31st July.
Other blockbusters include David Walliams’ first summer release—his collection of short stories, The World’s Worst Children (HarperCollins), was issued yesterday (19th May)—and a rare summer publication for Jamie Oliver, whose Super Food Family Classics (Michael Joseph) is out on 14th July. Oliver will be competing with Joe Wicks’ second title, Lean in 15: The Shape Plan (Bluebird, 16th June), while in fiction Jessie Burton’s second novel, The Muse (Picador), is also out in June. Retailers predicted that the strong sales of the paperback of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, which has topped the charts for the past two weeks, would continue.
Kate Skipper, buying director at Waterstones, said: “We’ve been blessed for the past couple of years with some great summer event publishing, which has really contributed to the excitement surrounding books each summer. Increasingly too, in a time-pressured world, I think the summer offers most of us a chance to take a break and get away. Books are obviously the perfect travelling companions and publishers are ensuring their schedules make the most of that.” Skipper predicted The Cursed Child, The Muse, Wicks, Walliams, the paperback of Go Set a Watchman and Carrie Hope Fletcher’s On the Other Side (Sphere) would all sell in high numbers across the chain.
Matthew Beane, Amazon’s head of vendor management for books, agreed that the publishing line-up this summer was robust. “The fact that it was incredibly difficult to pick just six titles that we think will do well this summer demonstrates the strength of the publishing offering,” he told The Bookseller. Along with The Cursed Child and Wicks, he backed James Patterson’s BookShots series of short novels, The Missing by C L Taylor (Avon), Tracy Bloom’s new KDP-published Strictly My Husband and The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday). “With so much choice across both print and Kindle formats, we are confident that our customers will have lots to choose from this summer,” he added.
Sandra Bradley, head of fiction for W H Smith High Street, said The Girl on the Train was “getting people reading and discussing books” and would continue to sell, with Burton’s new hardback “a complete page-turner”. In non-fiction, Bradley said Nadiya’s Kitchen by “The Great British Bake Off” winner Nadiya Hussain should also be a “great hit”.
Booksellers are feeling bullish as summer nears, following a strong year for print sales to date. Sales have risen year on year by 10% in value in 2016 to date, to £472.9m: the first double-digit increase in Nielsen weeks 1–19 since records began. Bricks-and-mortar retailers are also hoping to benefit from the flattening of e-book sales, reported by many agency publishers, in a season that usually sees higher digital sales as holidaymakers opt for the portability of e-readers.
Blackwell’s Oxford senior bookseller Ray Mattinson, who named What We Cannot Know (Fourth Estate) by Marcus du Sautoy, The Gene: An Intimate History (Bodley Head) by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Fen by Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape), a début of short stories from a former Blackwell’s Oxford bookseller, among his top picks for the summer, said: “We expect it to be a really good summer for books, building on last summer’s strong season. There is the feeling that people are coming back to bookshops, with customers turning away from e-readers and coming back to physical books. Translated fiction sales are also up. Bookshops are beginning to feel we are winning again.”
Ros de la Hey, president of the Booksellers Association and owner of The Mainstreet Trading Company in the Scottish Borders, echoed this point. She said: “Our sales continue to grow year on year in summer, but it will be especially interesting this year to see how e-books perform, given the rebalancing of the market and sales of physical books growing once more.”
Events will also help boost retailers’ takings this summer, with many holding midnight openings and parties for the release of The Cursed Child. Foyles will also host another Summer Festival, the details of which will be revealed in due course. The chain’s head of buying, Jasper Sutcliffe, said: “Obviously there’s the new Harry Potter, which will be huge for all booksellers, but there are some great books from other big names such as Justin Cronin, Joe Hill, Anne Tyler and Jessie Burton, which will generate customer interest and sales.”
Meanwhile, David Mantero, head buyer at Stanfords, said he believed more titles were being scheduled for summer than ever before, boosting sales, with paperback releases of big Autumn titles particularly prevalent. The travel titles he tipped to sell well in summer were Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks (Penguin), just out in paperback, Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling (Black Swan), Deep South by Paul Theroux (Penguin) and One Man’s Everest by Kenton Cool (Arrow).
Six summer sizzlers
The Muse Jessie Burton Picador
Burton’s second novel, following The Miniaturist, which was named Waterstones Book of the year in 2014. Set in 1967, it features Trinidadian immigrant Odelle Bastien, who begins a new job as a typist at the Skelton Institute in London under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child J K Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany Little, Brown
Continues the story of Harry, Ron and Hermione 19 years after the end of the seventh novel. It is due for release at 00.01 GMT on 31st July: Harry Potter’s birthday and just hours after the stage play opens to the public.
Lean in 15: The Shape Plan Joe Wicks Bluebird
Instagram sensation Wicks crashed into the book scene in January this year and has since spent many weeks at the top of the chart with his début cookbook. This is his second serving.
The Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins Transworld
Despite first coming out in hardback in January 2015, the paperback of Hawkins’ novel continues to fly off the shelves, spending its second week at number one this week. It looks set to continue to sell in bulk ahead of the film adaptation’s release in October.
The World’s Worst Children David Walliams HarperCollins Children’s
Walliams’ first collection of “cautionary tales”, with illustrator Tony Ross, was published yesterday (19th), featuring characters such as Dribbling Drew, a boy whose drool gets him into trouble, and Sofia Sofa, who spends so much time on the sofa that she turns into one.
Super Food: Family Classics Jamie Oliver Michael Joseph
The first of two books Oliver will publish this year on the subject of “healthy eating for the family”. The second, Jamie’s Christmas, will be “a long-awaited Christmas book”.