PW Says 2009 Bestsellers Lost Ground to the Long Tail

In What's the Buzz by Edward Nawotka

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By Edward Nawotka

PW has posted its annual analysis of the top selling book titles of the previous year, in this case, 2009. In summary, PW’s Michael Coffey noted, “bestsellers don’t sell in the numbers that they did in the past,” adding that the “numbers are rich with anecdotal surprises and bald truths.”

The most telling paragraph comes toward the middle of the article: “Whereas in ’08, there were 156 fiction titles with sales at 100,000+, in ’09 there are were only 130, a 16% drop. For nonfiction, the drop in titles reaching the 100,000 level was more pronounced, from 119 to 91, a plunge of 23%,” adding, “Given that the industry has grown during these 10 years, to more than $40 billion annually, one can only conclude that Chris Anderson had it right: the long tail created by online retailing, at the expense of bricks-and-mortar, has dampened frontlist sales but extended sales down the line.”

As for individual authors, Coffey points out that “in fiction, for example, Lisa See outsold John Sandford and John Irving and Wally Lamb; she sold as many as Margaret Atwood and E.L. Doctorow put together.”

The book that was expected to “save” the beleaguered book business — Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol sold “only” sold 5.5 million copies, not including e-book sales, which PW will add next year. That sum was still four million more his nearest rival: John Grisham.

In nonfiction, politics got everyone’s vote…and that vote was decidedly Republican: Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue Ted Kennedy’s True Compass 3-1.

Carolyn Kellog at the Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog adds her own analysis here.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.