Publishers are looking to make their mark with blockbuster titles from day one of release, as the most important day of autumn hardback releases, Super Thursday, looms this week.
This Thursday (29th September) sees 225 hardbacks hitting the shelves, around three times the average, with titles including books by Lee Child, Robert Harris, Steve Coogan, Lee Evans, Alan Sugar, Jamie Oliver and The Inbetweeners. Last year, 10 hardbacks released on Super Thursday, 30th September, went on to record sales of £1m or more over the Christmas period (to 2nd January 2011), more than any other date in 2010. In the first two weeks of September last year, £63m was spent on books, but sales so far this year have only totalled £55m, down 12% year on year.
Century editorial director Jack Fogg said: "You want to get to the top and then stay out in front from the start. Especially with the humour titles, December is when it gets going—the real spikes are in those few days before Christmas when everyone is focused on Christmas presents. The interesting thing now, more so than before, is that people think of getting into the top five spots as early as possible and then just stay there."
Publishers have a series of marketing strategies lined up, with Michael Joseph marketing director Liz Smith saying its campaigns were targeted to ensure spikes of interest from launch to Christmas. Century title James Corden's May I Have Your Attention, Please? is being serialised for six days in the Sun from publication and, similarly, Cornerstone's Robert Harris' The Fear Index will be backed by a Telegraph serialisation.
Harper non-fiction editorial director Anna Valentine said the "strongest launch possible" is "key to securing the top chart positions come Christmas", citing a social media campaign for Coogan's Alan Partridge biography I, Alan as well as a nationwide poster campaign and PR tour.
However, Orion deputy publisher Jon Wood said the key was to be well-positioned for the start of Christmas gift-buying in mid-November. He said: "We've got a few of our lead books coming out a bit later, to be closer to that rush. Every year you have books sitting around, waiting for that rush to start, and it is always later than you think."
Retailers and wholesalers too are looking further ahead than this Thursday. Gardners buying manager Phil Edwards said he expects Christmas sales for Gardners to begin properly after the autumn half-term in October and the start of November. Rachel Russell, W H Smith books business unit director, said it will be "business as usual" as the volume of books is similar to this time last year, but said a sales boost may come later.
She said: "Christmas has been getting later each year and it is likely to follow that pattern. Also, we have a lot of good titles coming in November, so that should give a second burst."
However, Foyles senior buyer Jasper Sutcliffe said a Super Thursday launch enables books to get "two bites at the cherry", attracting self-purchase initially, and then gift-buyers closer to Christmas. He added: "We've got Back to University as well, so goods in are working pretty hard, but we are on top of it. Distributors are on top of their game."