Hardback fiction stays strong as non-fiction performs poorly
15.04.10 | Graeme Neill and Philip Stone


Hardback fiction has continued its strong performance from last autumn into the new year, with the sector up 12.1% in value for the first quarter of 2010, led by continued strong sales for hardbacks such as Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol (Transworld) and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Quercus).

Last week The Bookseller reported that for the 12 weeks to 20th March, the book trade as a whole was down 6% in value terms to £334.9m. According to figures from Nielsen BookScan, £13.4m was spent on hardback fiction in the 12 weeks to 20th March, up from £12m. Volume sales increased by 10.2% to 1.3 million year on year. Total hardback sales were down 2.7% on last year to £86.4m.

Among the bestsellers during the period were several hardback titles from late 2009. The Lost Symbol sold 65,351 copies, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest sold 38,904, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall sold 22,045.

Sainsbury’s book buyer Sharon Gurney said: “There has been a lot of key hardback fiction that has worked well during the quarter. Lee Child’s 61 Hours has been massive. It also feels like there has been a lot of fiction with a long tail this quarter.”

However, hardback non-fiction remains down after a poor performance last autumn. General non-fiction hardback sales were down 5.8% in value terms to £45.3m, and down 5.8% in volume terms with 3.8 million books sold. Publishers only needed sales of 25,000 to have a top five hit for the quarter, compared to 40,000 for 2009.

Mum Knows Best by the Hairy Bikers was one of the few bright sparks in the sector with sales of 108,615. Cookery was a rare non-fiction genre that performed well during the quarter with sales in the food and drink sector up 6.6% year on year to £15m.

Bertrams’ buying director Chris Rushby said non-fiction’s poor performance could be down to fiction’s success. He said: “If more good fiction titles are available, then people may choose those books out of author loyalty rather than a non-fiction title.”

Paperbacks experienced a difficult first quarter with sales across all genres down 7.1% to £248.6m year on year. While adult fiction was down by 0.1% in volume and 3% in value, non-fiction was hit harder. That sector was down 13% in value terms with £84.7m spent on books during the quarter.

In the children’s sector, hardback sales fell 2.8% to £19.3m, with paperbacks down 3.6% to £44.9m.

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