Super Thursday is backed by trade

Super Thursday is backed by trade

Publishers and booksellers have backed the first ever trade-wide acknowledgement of Super Thursday as a national book event.

The Books Are My Bag campaign, supported by the trade and co-ordinated by the Booksellers Association (BA), is launching for its second year on Super Thursday, which this autumn falls on 9th October. The BAMB campaign will culminate in “Big Bookshop Parties” the following Saturday (11th October).

Super Thursday will see the largest number of titles published in 2014 on a single day, as the Christmas gift-purchasing season hots up. According to Nielsen BookScan, 315 hardback titles will be published on 9th October (among 1,185 in that week).

Predicted big hitters include autobiographies from Ray Winstone, (Canongate), John Cleese (Random House) and Kevin Pietersen (Little, Brown), and fiction from Gillian Anderson (Simon & Schuster), Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins), Martina Cole (Headline) and Ian Rankin (Headline).

Top non-fiction offers include Brian Cox’s Human Universe (William Collins), the £125 Historic Heston by experimental chef Heston Blumenthal (Bloomsbury), and Paul Hollywood’s British Baking (also Bloomsbury). Other big dates for book releases are 25th September and 23rd October.

BA c.e.o. Tim Godfray said that after years of wider media publicity for Super Thursday, it made sense for the trade to finally embrace it as an official event. “Super Thursday is a day that the media have consistently taken an interest in, but it’s never really benefited bookshops,” he said. “This year, it makes perfect sense to kick off the busiest book sale season of the year with Books Are My Bag on Super Thursday, so bookshops can add a meaningful message to the day —love books, love bookshops.”

Retailers and publishers generally agreed that it was beneficial for the whole industry to get behind Super Thursday as a publishing event, and draw more attention to books, but some said the competition for retail space and media exposure was something of a drawback.

Charlotte Bush, director of publicity and media relations at Cornerstone, said: “[Super Thursday] gives the media a hook, and it is an opportunity to generate additional buzz and excitement around books and publishing—this can only be a good thing . . . But of course it can be challenging to secure key coverage in that week because the competition is so fierce.”

Kate Elton, executive publisher, HarperFiction and NonFiction, noted logistical challenges: “Fitting it all together in terms of logistics is like a huge jigsaw puzzle, and we’ve been planning it for a year. We have as many big hardbacks as there are Thursdays throughout the autumn, so working out what goes where isn’t easy, though it’s a good problem to have.”

Andrew Furlow, sales and marketing manager at Icon Books, said: “We’re quite deliberately pushing books back to avoid the Super Thursday crush . . . it’s difficult to get attention.”

Tim Walker, BA president and owner of Walker Bookshops, said fitting so many new titles into shops was a challenge in itself. “We will be getting an awful lot of good books in on the same week—I’m not sure where we are going to put them all,” he said. “If only the walls were made of rubber!”

Most retailers approved of the autumn publishing offer. Kate Skipper, Waterstones’ director of buying, said: “There is a much stronger fiction and children’s line-up for us this year. The non-fiction list looks slightly weaker but there are often last-minute additions to the schedule so we shall wait and see how that pans out.”

A super spread: The breakdown

Does Super Thursday matter? First identified by The Bookseller’s former charts editor Philip Stone in 2008, the retailing and marketing phenomenon is the day on which more books are published than any other in the bookselling calendar. It certainly puts a strain on in-store merchandising plans, and space for front of shop tables will be sparse.

In pure sales terms, however, it does matter. The last six Super Thursday weeks have averaged sales of £34.7m through Nielsen BookScan’s TCM (see timeline below); four of those weeks’ sales were the year-to-date’s highest through Nielsen. There is an average week-on-week uplift for Super Thursday of 6.1%. Whether it is the mass of publishing, retailer buy-in, consumer awareness or a combination of the three, Super Thursday drives sales and footfall.  

Super Thursday week is also a time, it should be noted, for booksellers to try to capitalise in revenue terms before the deeper Christmas discounts kick in. Two of the last six Super Thursday weeks (2008, 2013) had the highest average selling price of their particular year; in the other four, the year’s highest a.s.p. came in either the week immediately before or after.   

There is an emphasis this Super Thursday on non-fiction brands with second, third or even fourth outings including Chris Evans’ Dear Me (HarperCollins), Alan Johnson’s Please, Mr Postman (Bantam), and James Bowen’s latest Streetcat Named Bob spin-off, A Gift from Bob (Hodder). Yet there is still plenty of “new” non-fiction, led by Vivienne Westwood’s  Macmillan-published memoir.

As in past years, there are two “Almost Super Thursdays” this autumn. On 23rd October, the second-most hardbacks of 2014 are published (233), with big hitters including Graham Norton’s The Life and Loves of a He Devil (Hodder), John McEnroe’s But Seriously (Orion) and up and coming chef Jack Monroe’s A Year in 120 Recipes (Michael Joseph).

Meanwhile, 25th September has 172 hardbacks published, with memoirs from Stephen Fry, Paul Merton and One Direction; fiction including Victoria Hislop’s The Sunrise (Headline) and Howard Jacobson’s J (Cape); while children’s publishing is topped by David Walliams’ as-yet-untitled forthcoming title.

Super Thursday battles...

On the stage:

John Cleese is riding high with Monty Python’s recent shows, while 27-year-old Glaswegian Kevin Bridges is the hottest comic on the circuit. Older telly greats often do well—for example, David Jason’s My Life (Century, £3.9m in 2013 HB sales)—but younger comedians are a less safe bet. Penguin is hoping for something closer to Michael MacIntyre’s Life and Laughing (Penguin, £3.9m in 2010) rather than John Bishop’s How Did This All Happen? (HC, £919,000 in 2013).

On the shelves:

If there is a safe bet this Super Thursday, it will be that mighty Martina Cole will be sitting atop the Original Fiction chart; she has accomplished that feat with every one of her hardback releases since The Bookseller created the chart (11 consecutive titles), and has averaged sales of 164,000 hardback units in the last three autumns. Cole might have a run for her money with Rachel Joyce’s sequel to her massive début, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

On the pitch:

Sequels from two footballing greats. Former Man United superstar Roy Keane’s second memoir (The Autobiography shifted £3.1m in 2002) is particularly anticipated as it is co-written with Roddy Doyle—but mostly because it seems to be a direct riposte to his ex-boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s memoir last year, which ripped into his former charge. Harry Redknapp’s previous effort, Always Managing (Ebury), was a big Christmas 2013 hit, selling £2.2m.