In the opening days of 2019, the publishing industry is looking towards the future. Popular predictions include the continued rise of audiobooks, political non-fiction, books clubs and the niche subscription service model. But the past still has a lot to say. Here are what fascinating publishing industry insights were just revealed by a new list of the U.K.’s top 100 print bestsellers across fiction and non-fiction alike.
First, an explanation of where the data’s coming from: The Guardian’s John Dugdale recently published a list of these bestsellers, offering their titles, authors, publication dates, and sales numbers alongside insights such as the fact that male authors represented 8 out of the top 10 books as well as 61% of the entire list’s authors, up from 35% in 2017. The data was provided by industry data provider Nielsen Bookscan, and based on sales numbers from between the dates of December 31, 2017 and December 8, 2018.
Author Chris McCrudden then used this available data to draw out additional insights, initially posting them in a Twitter thread. McCrudden has graciously allowed me to draw on his comments and pie charts in order to compile a new list of interesting tidbits revealed by the year’s bestselling books. Granted, the 100 top-selling titles are just a sliver of the total sales the publishing industry sees in a year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have insights to offer.
The four quadrants of bestsellers: Fiction, non-fiction, children’s, and crime thrillers.CHRIS MCCRUDDENMost Popular In: Media
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1: Fiction bestsellers are mostly crime thrillers now.
“In fiction in 2018 there were crime thrillers, and then there was everything else,” McCrudden says. “And 30% of ‘everything else’ was a single book: Eleanor Oliphant.” Of the crime thriller publishers in 2018’s top 100, Hachette and Penguin Random House have the largest share of the market, together accounting for well over 75%.
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Granted, this fact comes with a noteworthy disclaimer: The list only covers print books sold in bookstores. Perhaps thriller readers love the page turners precisely because they can turn the physical pages. So what are they consuming digitally? McCrudden located a few missing genres.
2: Sci-fi, fantasy and romance aren’t popular genres for print bestsellers.
Romance and speculative fiction titles weren’t entirely missing from the U.K.’s top bestsellers in 2018, but they didn’t make much of a showing, either.
“Things notably absent from this Top 100: Romance (other than Jojo Moyes); Science fiction (other than Ready Player Go, which was a film tie-in); Fantasy (unless you count Greek or Norse myths),” McCrudden says. “I would bet these sales are mostly ebooks now.” The evidence backs up McCrudden on this point: According to one assessment, self-published and Amazon-published ebooks accounted for 48% of all science fiction and fantasy book sales across all formats in 2017.
3: Children’s books sell a lot more than we give them credit for.
The U.K.’s 100 bestsellers list of 2018 comprises nearly 16 million copies. Of these, nearly a third — 31% — were children’s books, by McCrudden’s count.
That’s a huge number, even though the limited media coverage of the genre can often undersell how popular children’s books really are.
4: David Walliams sold sold more than 1.91 million U.K. books in 2018.
British actor, comedian, and talent show judge David Walliams is a rising star in the children’s book market: He authored 40% of the bestselling children’s books sold in the U.K. last year.
“He sold more than 1.91 million books in 2018,” McCrudden notes, adding for comparison that “JK Rowling sold 600,000.”
Books in the food and popular science genres accounted for a little over half of the top 100… [+]CHRIS MCCRUDDEN
5: Food and popular science books are big in the U.K.’s 2018 non-fiction top sellers.
Food and pop science together made up over half of non-fiction sales on the list, with food books taking the largest piece of the pie. Biographies and humor genres also sold well last year among the top non-fiction bestsellers. Once again, the fact that the data refers to physical books might be impacting the insight: In this case, physical cook books may simply sell better because enterprising foodies enjoy a book they can prop open on the kitchen counter and consult as they prepare their meal.
Incidentally, cooking (and children’s books) remained male-dominated in addition to being among the largest genres in the top 100 bestsellers in 2018.
Penguin Random House sold the most U.K. print bestsellers in 2018.CHRIS MCCRUDDEN
6: In 2018, Penguin Random House and Hachette cleaned up.
Thanks to all those crime thriller sales, two publishing houses did great: Penguin Random House and Hachette did significantly better than most, though HarperCollins also did more than well for itself. Simon & Schuster, however, just landed one title on the U.K.’s 2018 bestseller list despite its Big Five status.
7: General fiction bestsellers usually move about 140,000 copies.
How many copies should an author sell in a year before they can expect to hit the U.K.’s bestselling lists? If you’re in the fiction category, about 140,000 copies in 2018, which is up quite a bit from the year prior.
“Because so little general fiction made it into the Top 100 in 2018, these books sold proportionally more,” McCrudden holds. “When I did this exercise last year, a general fiction bestseller sold about 100,000 copies. Now it’s about 140,000.”
For crime fiction, between 100,000 and 140,000 print copies put you in best-seller territory (even if the big names like Lee Child can sell 300,000 copies). For the average children’s bestseller, however, the norm was 110,000 copies sold in 2018. Well, once you remove Walliams, J.K. Rowling, and Jeff “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” Kinney who skew the numbers by selling significantly more than the rest of the top bestsellers.
You can find a few more details on McCrudden’s Twitter thread. One thing’s for sure: If I sell 140,000 copies of a novel in the U.K. this year, I will fully expect to land on the next bestselling list.Adam Rowe
I write on how the business of modern storytelling is evolving across mediums. I’m a writer at Tech.co and my work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Tor.com, and Barnes… Read More