Close of play in the book market for 2010

For 2010 Nielsen BookScan, which tracks nearly all retail book sales, has reported consumer sales in the UK market of £1.72bn and 229.3m books. This is an average selling price (not cover price) of £7.51 per copy. The figures show a decline from the previous year of 2.7 per cent (by volume) and 1.7 per cent (by value). The average selling price rose by 7p.

In the top ten titles are books by Jamie Oliver, Stieg Larsson (all three of the Millennium Trilogy), Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and David Nicholls (One Day). The top ten titles sold 10.5m copies, with Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals selling a staggering 1.2m copies at an average selling price of £13.59 – worth £16m. It has been hailed as the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time.

Robert McCrum in the Observer commented: ‘If you persist in the belief that ours is a sophisticated book-buying society, look at the top sellers for 2010. The figures are just in and, for anyone hoping for evidence of some uplift in popular taste, they provide a sobering reality check.’

The top five publishing groups in 2010 were Hachette, Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, and Pan Macmillan.

Last year’s figures are based on a 53-week year for BookScan, in order to catch up with the calendar year. Without the 53rd week there would have been a larger drop in sales: down 4.3 per cent (by volume) and 3.2 per cent (by value).


Consumer book publishing is the high-risk end of the business: book failures are frequent but the rewards from ‘bestsellers’ – some of which are quite unexpected – can be great. At the top end of the spectrum is the Harry Potter series. The potential readers are varied, spread thinly through the population, expensive to reach, difficult to identify, and have tastes and interests that can be described generally but are not easily matched to a particular book. Publishers bet to a great extent on their judgement of public taste and interests – notoriously unpredictable. Sometimes the publication of a book creates its own market. And the authors whose work arouses growing interest can develop a personal readership, thereby creating their own markets – perhaps attaining a ‘brand name’ following, especially in fiction. Publishers compete fiercely for their books.