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Follow my Leader

18 February 2002

A leader in the this week's Bookseller comments on that well-known publishing rule relating to copycat publishing: books which set out to jump on a bestselling bandwagon never sell as well as the original book. Tariq Ali, in a reference to the success of Cod, said : 'The bloody book on salmon never works'.

He is echoing many in the industry who have observed that the sales departments' desire to publish next year more of whatever made it to the bestseller lists last year is fatally flawed. The very fact that the first book did so well means that the next one won't.

Public taste does change and readers do get bored with the same thing, however successful it has been in the past. Delia Smith, generally seen by everyone in the British book trade as a 'banker', has just sold 100,000 fewer copies to date of How to Cook: Book Three than of previous volumes. The tie-in to the third series of Absolutely Fabulous, assumed by everyone in the book trade to be a dead cert, has been shown to be just a dead book - and so it goes on.

Taking a more positive approach to all this, one could applaud the fact that book-buyers are exercising choice and discrimination. In spite of the best that publishers' marketing departments can do to promote the books that have been selected for the bestseller hype, a bad book won't sell.

Word-of-mouth is still an irresistible force, as the huge success of books such as Wild Swans and Cold Mountain have shown. The book business would do well to remember that readers are fickle and opinionated, as they have every right to be, and cannot be force-fed with a diet of pre-digested bestsellers.