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Bestsellers, bestsellers

20 September 2010

Some recent articles on bestseller lists have shown that the lists can be a bit of a moveable feast.

The website Publishing Perspectives took on the Huffington Post’s attempt to list the top 15 bestselling books of all time and offered a revision, expanding the list to 25. It will surprise no-one to know that the Bible still ranks as the bestselling book of all time, which, including all the bibles which have been given away, comes to six billion copies. Quotations from Chairman Mao is said to have sold 800-900 million copies worldwide, but one source says this should be 6.5 billion copies.

The Qu’ran follows this with over 800 million copies and after that it are two more works by Mao. Fiction gets into the figures for the first time with Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities at number 6 and The Lord of the Rings doesn’t show up until seventh position, when it ties with The Book of Mormon, and the first Harry Potter comes in at number ten.

A recent article on the bestseller charts by the Bookseller investigated which authors have been a ‘bride’, ie got to number one, most often. The undoubted winner is James Patterson. This study, which is based on an analysis of Nielsen BookscanUK bibliographic organisation, describing itself as 'the definitive retail monitoring service for books', which shows UK bestseller lists on its website. charts since records began in 1998, shows that no less than 34 books penned by Patterson and his co-writers have reached the top of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. Patterson’s books have spent a combined 10 years in the bestseller lists since 1998, meaning that more than 80% of the time he has had a book in the Top Ten.

Danielle Steel, the second most prolific author in terms of hitting the top spot, has had 19 number ones and her books have spent eight years in the bestseller lists.

The figures show that the biggest ‘bridesmaids’, ie those authors whose books got into the top ten but not the number on spot, are Mark Billingham, Jack Higgins, Jackie Collins and Dean Koontz. All of these are commercial novelists, so it is good to see that Zadie Smith’s literary novel White Teeth has spent more time in the bestseller lists than Dean Koontz.

So, what does it mean for authors? Well, the strongest message from all this is that people buy books by author brand. They’re affected by bestsellerdom, which tends to be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as bestsellers get more display space and marketing spend, in the attempt to turn them into ever greater bestsellers, which means they sell more. It’s also difficult to turn the clock back on bestseller culture, especially since corporate publishers feel safer investing their money in brand authors. This focus on bestsellerdom does have an inimical effect on everything else though, as bestsellers tend to crowd other books out and make it difficult for non-bestsellers to have much of a chance.

Publishing Perspectives