Booksellers are feeling bullish heading into the final frenzied days of selling before Christmas following a raft of “strong publishing” and sales tracking nearly 10% ahead on the comparable figures from 2014, beating the national retail average.
An extra day in the week before 25th December this year also gives bookshops an added advantage, with it “all to play for” in the last few days before the main event as long as the “weather gods” hold up.
The “range Christmas” this year, with no single stand-out title, is beneficial for sales, booksellers reported. However, many remarked that the eight Ladybirds for Grown-Ups titles by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris (Michael Joseph), designed to “help adults with the world about them”, are taking the tills by storm. Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting (MacLehose Press) has been an unexpected hit, and Guy Martin’s When You Dead, You Dead (Virgin Books) is also selling well.
However, while many retailers have remarked on the strength of the publishing this autumn, a lack of celebrity autobiographies with the power to pull atypical book-buyers into stores over the Christmas period has been criticised as “disappointing”.
Book sales in November 2015 were up 9.8% year on year, to £149.7m. In contrast, the British Retail Consortium said general bricks-and-mortar, high street sales were down by 0.4% year on year in November.
Children’s books form a bigger part of the Christmas pie this season, with David Walliams’ Grandpa’s Great Escape (HarperCollins Children’s), Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School (Puffin) and Harry Potter Colouring Book (Studio Press) taking three of the top five spots in The Official UK Top 50, and children’s titles accounting for 32.6% of the market’s value last month, up from 27% of its value in November 2014. However, by contrast, sales of celebrity memoirs were down 23% in October and November 2015 when compared with the same period in 2014.
Waterstones buying director Kate Skipper said of the fall: “Overall, the lack of standout celebrity biographies is disappointing. These books are always invaluable to bring non- traditional book buyers into the shops and this year’s crop have yet to sizzle.” However, she added: “There is considerable strength in the breadth of the publishing, which always helps, too. Overall, it feels like there is everything to play for in the final couple of weeks of trading—weather gods permitting!”
Skipper said the “two biggies” for Waterstones so far are the humorous Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups— “which are flying off the shelves and into our customers’ stockings”—and the retailer’s Book of the Year, The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford- Smith (Particular Books), “which our booksellers are throwing their all behind”. Crime has also had an “encouragingly robust year”, Skipper added, “not least given it was one of the genres written off as migrating entirely to e-books”, with the chain seeing its “best performance in years” on big-brand crime authors such as Lee Child and Ian Rankin.
Gardners commercial director Bob Jackson also said the Ladybird titles were among the wholesaler’s top sellers, as did Tony Maher, m.d. of Stanfords, and David Prescott, c.e.o. of Blackwell’s. The eight-strong series has sold just under 404,000 units for £2.5m since the books were first published on 29th October.
Maher said Stanfords’ sales were up 2.5% year on year in the first eight days of December, but added: “Obviously it is early days and it is all to play for—but with the extra day before Christmas we feel fairly confident about the outcome for the month.” Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden (Particular Books) and The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson (Doubleday) are also seling well for the chain, Maher said.
Booksellers such as Booka Bookshop in Oswestry (pictured above), along with Blackwell’s, Gardners and Stanfords, reported that Norwegian Wood was selling fast—the title has notched up sales of 32,000 units since 23rd November. Booka also highlighted A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig (Canongate), The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees by Robert Penn (Particular Books) and A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press) as strong sellers.
Karen Brindle, book buyer for Tesco, said the supermarket was “selling a lot of books this season” and expected “sales to be as strong as ever”.
In fiction, George R R Martin’s Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Harper Voyager), Wilbur Smith’s Golden Lion (Bloomsbury), Martina Cole’s Get Even (Headline) and Derek “Del Boy” Trotter’s He Who Dares (Ebury Press) were all selling well. In non-fiction, football titles were proving popular— in particular Steven Gerrard’s My Story (Penguin) and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Leading (Hodder & Stoughton).
W H Smith reported that it was having success with cookery titles Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph), Simply Nigella by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus) and From Venice to Istanbul by Rick Stein (BBC Books), along with fiction titles The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins and Ian Rankin’s Even Dogs in the Wild.
Daunt Books, meanwhile, said copies of Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Road (Bloomsbury) were proving a hit and The Corbyn Colouring Book by James Nunn (Old Street Publishing) was flying off the shelves.
Ireland is having a strong season for selling homegrown authors, according to both Dubray Books and The Gutter Bookshop, who are enjoying particular success with The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien (Faber), Anne Enright’s The Green Road (Jonathan Cape) and Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s Seedless in Seattle (Penguin Ireland.)
Jackson said the signs indicated that it would be a successful Christmas, with internet sales “strong” as well as the high street, despite charity titles playing a part, with Mog’s Christmas Calamity by Judith Kerr (HarperCollins) selling exclusively through Sainsbury’s to raise money for Save the Children and Waterstones’ Buy Books for Syria campaign passing the £500,000 mark.