No one would have been able to predict at the start of 2012 that a BDSM erotic romantic trilogy—Fifty Shades—would set new records for book sales and change/spice up what women worldwide would admit to be reading, many for the first time. E.L. James, debut author of the hot trio—Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed—was a game changer. In less than a year, her trilogy sold, in print, more than 35 million in the U.S. and 65 million worldwide, and was published in at least 40 countries and 50 translations. It never mattered that the critical reviews of the book were lukewarm, with more than 4,500 one-star reviews on Amazon. James’s books had a combined 2012 total of 118 weeks on PW’s top-15 trade paper charts—giving James 14.7% of available slots. Fifty Shades also had a huge impact on the sale of erotic romance titles in general, with publishers paying big bucks for new books in this genre and authors of erotica enjoying increased sales. It also made for a record-setting year at Random House Inc.—at the company Christmas party, CEO Markus Dohle announced a $5,000 year-end bonus for every employee of Random House Inc.
PW chose James as the publishing person of the year (Dec. 3, 2012), and described James’s unprecedented publishing trajectory from a posting on a fan fiction online program to a seven-figure deal from Vintage. It was the most talked about book/bestseller of the year, and many veterans in the business are still trying to figure out the trilogy’s massive appeal.
There was other significant bestseller news in 2012 when this past June, Publishers Weekly reached an agreement with Nielsen BookScan to use its data to produce weekly charts of the top-25 titles in hardcover fiction and nonfiction, mass market, and trade paperback, among others. Most interesting was that, for the first time at PW, unit sales for the week and cumulative sales became part of the regular information. For the purpose of this annual analysis (one that we have done for more than 20 years), we are continuing to track only the top 15 bestsellers. We anticipate changing our ways for the 2013 bestseller feature. Also, this analysis focuses on print only and not e-book sales. That, too, could change next year.
In the world of bestsellers, so many things don’t change year after year. Ten years ago, the headline in this article noted that “tenure on the charts gets shorter.” The upside of this is that the list of titles that make a first landing on the weekly charts keeps getting longer. In 2012, a record 742 titles made a first landing on the four charts, compared with 421 in 2002. Just five years ago in 2008, 563 books made a first landing on the four weekly charts. Nonfiction bestsellers set a record this year with 222 new books; sounds good, but not when you note that 124 of these books only had one week on the charts and 37 more were on for two weeks. Double digit runs were achieved by only 17 nonfiction bestsellers and three of these were holdovers from the previous years. Trade paper also made a huge leap, going from 84 in 2011 to 122 in 2012; just five years ago (2008), only 56 trade paper made a first landing. The shorter tenure trend in trade is troubling. While 22 titles had double digit tenure in their first year on the charts, 83 trade titles only had a one or two week run. Trade paperbacks were traditionally hailed as the books with the longest shelf life, but it too is following on the slippery path of not enough time on the shelf.
Getting to #1
It has been easier in recent years to land at the top of the charts, and while that seems like good news, it has a negative connotation. Again, opportunity expanded because bestseller tenure is dismal. A record 89 top-sellers enjoyed a shot in the top spot, but 56% held on for only one week. Only three had a double-digit #1 run—Fifty Shades of Grey dominated the trade paper list for 31 weeks, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy led the nonfiction hardcover charts for 11 weeks, and Nicholas Sparks’s The Lucky One enjoyed 10 weeks on the mass market list.
In hardcover fiction, 28 out of the 36 top sellers (77%) that landed in the #1 spots did so only in the first week of being on sale. Both Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and John Grisham’s The Racketeer had the longest runs in the top spot—seven weeks and six weeks, respectively. Eighteen hardcover nonfiction bestsellers made it to #1, six for one week and six more for two and three weeks. Mass market had a better tenure record than hardcover fiction—24 hit the #1 spot; 12 for a single week. Not surprisingly, given the dominance of E.L James, trade racked up the smallest amount of #1 titles—11 in all—and only three of those had a staying power of four or more weeks.
We make this observation every year about the power of the big houses because every year it is true. In 2012, big six—Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan—owned 88.7% of the hardcover real estate. In paperback, the same six plus Harlequin accounted for 93.5% of available slots. If you add the two other bestseller players on the chart on page 22 (Hyperion, Kensington), the group of nine accounts for 90.1% of hardcover slots and 93.8% of paperback. There were a few other hardcover publishers that enjoyed some bestseller success in 2012—Guinness World Records 2013 added 1.1% to the total and Regnery’s four bestsellers, including Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, added 2.1% to the total. In paperback, four religion publishers—B&H, Bethany House, Frontline, and Tyndale—racked up a total of 28 weeks, adding an additional 1.8%. Not much bestseller retail space was left for the thousands of other companies in the book business.
Another common truism in this annual report is that Random House Inc. is the champion bestseller player; in 2012, it racked up 27% of the hardcover spots and 31.5% of the paperbacks. The latter number was a 2.3% increase over the 2011 figure and most of that gain could be credited to the Fifty Shades trilogy. Penguin continues to be #2 in the bestseller game, with 15.5% of the hardcover territory and 17.7% of paperback. Sometime in the latter half of 2013, the two conglomerates will merge and the potential percentage share of bestsellers will be stunning; in 2012 numbers, it would add up to 43.5% of hardcover and 49.2% of paperback sales—nearly half the bestseller market in print going to one company.
Veterans vs. Newbies
Five first fiction titles landed on the hardcover charts in 2012 compared with 10 in 2011, but none racked up the longevity that some of their colleagues—Kathryn Stockett and Stieg Larsson—enjoyed in previous years. Lifeboat, Expats, Age of Miracles, The Orphan Master’s Son, and The Light Between Oceans all enjoyed good reviews and some time on the charts; the best tenure was three weeks for The Light Between Oceans.
Our usual trio of veterans—Nora Roberts, James Patterson (with his team of co-writers), and Debbie Macomber—again had multiple frontlist and backlist titles on the weekly charts. Their combined total of 63 paperback bestsellers added up to a total of 171 weeks on the chart; that is more than 10% of the paperback bestseller real estate. Nicholas Sparks had four paperbacks on the weekly, with a combined total of 55 weeks, and E.L. James trilogy’s 118 weeks—that makes five authors with close to 22% of all the available slots on the paperback side.
Politics and food were the most popular nonfiction subjects. A quick count of these books on the 2012 charts showed about two dozen bestsellers about presidents, from Washington to Obama; our current leader had at least six books with his name on the title. Books on food numbered about 30, with health the focus of at least 10. But baking was also a popular category, with recipes for pies, cupcakes, cakes, and bread. Fifty Shades had an impact on the culinary category—Clarkson Potter’s Fifty Shades of Chicken turned out to be an entertaining tidbit, and while it had much fewer Amazon reviews than Fifty Shades of Grey (less than 100), almost all rated five stars.
A lot of editorial space in consumer and trade publications is devoted to bestsellers, even though they make up less than 1% of the overall title output. Yes, sex sold best in 2012, but it is the other 99% percent that makes for a healthy, vital, and interesting publishing business.
Bestsellers by Corporation: How the Large Companies Fared on PW’s ‘12 Charts
|Company||# of Bks||# of Wks||% *Share||% +/- from ‘11||# of Bks||# of Wks||% *Share||% +/- from ‘11|
|Simon & Schuster||59||229||14.4||+3.3||32||133||8.4||-1.3|
|Hachette Book Group USA||50||221||13.9||-2.3||48||266||16.7||+3.8|
|*This figure represents the publisher’s share of the 1,590 hardcover and 1,590 paperback bestseller positions during 2012. Only the top 15 books on the weekly charts were calculated.|
PW's 2012 Longest-Running Bestsellers
|# of weeks on 2012 top 15 list||Fiction||# of weeks on 2012 top 15 list||Mass Market|
|30||*Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn. Crown||19||*The Litigators. John Grisham. Dell|
|27||A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Fire and Ice, Book 5. George R.R. Martin. Bantam (20)||18||A Game of Thrones, A Song of Fire and Ice, Book 1. George R.R. Martin. Bantam (37)|
|17||The Time Keeper. Mitch Albom. Hyperion||18||*The Lucky One. Nicholas Sparks. Vision|
|16||*Calico Joe. John Grisham. Doubleday||12||The Girl Who Played with Fire. Stieg Larsson. Vintage (59)|
|# of weeks on 2012 top 15 list||Nonfiction||# of weeks on 2012 top 15 list||Trade|
|38||Killing Lincoln. Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard. Holt (12)||42||*Fifty Shades of Grey. E.L. James. Vintage|
|27||*Steve Jobs. Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster (8)||37||Fifty Shades Darker E.L. James. Vintage|
|22||*American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Morrow||37||Fifty Shades Freed. E.L. James. Vintage|
|22||*Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl Strayed. Knopf||29||To Heaven and Back. Mary C. Neal. WaterBrook Press|
|19||*Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House. Edward Klein. Regnery||27||Bared to You: A Crossfire Novel. Sylvia Day. Berkley|
|17||*No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden. Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer. Dutton||21||Heaven Is for Real. Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. Thomas Nelson (50)|
|16||Guinness World Records 2013. Guinness World Records. Guinness Publishing||21||The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Rebecca Skloot. Broadway (41)|
|15||I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life. Joel Osteen. FaithWords||20||Bossypants. Tina Fey. LB/Reagan Arthur|
|19||In the Garden of Beasts. Erik Larson. Broadway|
|17||*The Help. Kathryn Stockett. Berkley (37)|
|17||The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Stephen Chbosky. MTV Books|
|15||The Lucky One. Nicholas Sparks. Grand Central|
|*Asterisked titles achieved the #1 spot during their 2012 tenure on PW’s top 15 weekly lists. Numbers in parentheses show how many weeks a particular title spent on PW‘s top 15 list prior to 2012.|
Ranking the Houses: How the Divisions and Imprints Competed in 2012
|Publisher||# of Books||# of Weeks||Publisher||# of Books||# of Weeks||Publisher||# of Books||# of Weeks|
|Adult Hardcover||Mass Market||Trade Paper|
|Little, Brown||19||108||Signet||14||41||St. Martin’s/Griffin||9||15|
|St. Martin’s||17||39||Vision||13||79||Simon & Schuster||6||38|
|Simon & Schuster||16||72||Pocket Books||13||30||Penguin Press||6||23|
|Random House||14||54||Grand Central||10||51||Bantam||4||12|
|Free Press||7||31||Pocket Star||3||4||Three Rivers Press||2||4|
|Crown Archetype||6||12||Ace||1||3||RH/Large Print||2||2|
|Greenleaf Book Group||5||5||Hyperion||4||21||Nelson||1||21|
|Hay House||4||8||MTV Books||1||17|
|Berkley||4||7||B&H Publishing Group||1||12|
|Guinness World Records||2||17||Picador||1||3|
|Blue Rider Press||2||11||World Almanac||1||3|
|Ace||2||8||Washington Square Press||1||2|
|Pantheon||2||5||Dark Horse Comics||1||1|
|Baen Books||2||3||Morgan James||1||1|
|America’s Test Kitchen||2||2|
|Atlantic Monthly Press||2||2|
|Harvard Business School||2||2|
|Ten Speed Press||2||2|
|Thomas Dunne Books||2||2|
|Blue Rider Press||1||2|
|Changing Lives Press||1||1|
|Liveright Mercury Ink||1||1|
|Spiegel & Grau||1||1|
|Wizards of the Coast||1||1|
| All the numbers reflect first-time landings on the bestseller lists during a given year. |
*record high for the given year.