The Bookseller Essay, Research Paper
The Bookseller· Fans of celebrity memoirs will have an unprecedented range to choose from this autumn, provided they do not insist that the stars come only from the A list. Indeed, the alphabet may not be long enough to classify some of the memoirists on offer. This genre enjoyed an extraordinary and somewhat alarming boom last year. It’s alarming because the books cost a lot of money: advances in excess of £500,000 are usual. Nevertheless, a surprisingly high percentage of them did well. Robbie Williams’s Somebody, Someday, which cost Random House £800,000, was a huge success; as was Victoria Beckham’s Learning To Fly, which cost Penguin even more but which earned back £750,000 just from a serial deal. Pamela Stephenson’s Billy, bought for an undisclosed advance that was certainly less than the ones above, was the biggest hit of all, selling more than 1 million copies in hardback and now sitting at the top of the charts again in its paperback edition. Even Bruce Forsyth’s and Frank Skinner’s memoirs, which were regarded as disappointments – each sold about 75,000 hardback copies – would have been seen as successes had their publishers not invested unrecoverable amounts of money in them. The dismal failures were rare; unfortunately for Anthea Turner, everyone found out that she was one of them. Overall, the book industry got away with these gambles. Insiders agreed that publishers would be rash to take similar risks in autumn 2002. But it is not in publishers’ natures to get out while they’re ahead. Publishers know that these books become huge sellers only if the celebrities are at the top of their professions, have gripping stories to tell, are popular, and are not over-exposed. However, they have splashed out on the following, not many of whom qualify on all four counts: Roy Keane, Murray Walker, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, Melanie B, Michael Barrymore, Geri Halliwell, Alan Titchmarsh, Ruby Wax, Kate Adie, Nicole and Natalie Appleton, Ulrika Jonsson, Dale Winton, Lulu, and David Essex. Keane and Walker will be bestsellers, even if they do not earn back their £1m-plus advances. Kate Adie will also be popular, and Alan Titchmarsh is a reliable provider of hit books. After that, the odds lengthen. These are people who have lost some of their pulling power, and who will not be able to get away – as the biggest stars can – with dull books. We shall have to wait until September to find out if the Appletons’ Together (Michael Joseph) really is a “brave and honest” “anti-celebrity” book, and whether Melanie B’s Catch a Fire (Headline) will be, as her publisher promised a trade gathering, “as outspoken and outrageous as she is”. · Jeff Bezos, founder of online retailer Amazon, picked the name of his company to suggest the scale of what he would offer: every book in print, and now an expanding range of goods including music, DVDs, electrical goods, computers, home goods, mobile phones, and numerous services. The name has acquired connotations of dominance too. Amazon.co.uk is by far the largest internet bookseller in the UK. The second largest is Amazon.com, the original US site. The media giant Bertelsmann might have been expected to offer a serious challenge; but the Bertelsmann internet bookshop, called Bol, has given up the battle, and is to become a book club. Amazon runs the Waterstone’s site. Ottakar’s has retreated, and Blackwell’s concentrates on the academic market. Only WH Smith, among the large retailers, continues to run a general internet bookshop. It is not surprising that Amazon is telling publishers that its trading terms should reflect its increasing sales. But it is meeting some resistance and, as a result of breakdowns in negotiations, is not at present able to buy books directly from several leading publishers; it has to go to wholesalers instead. Book buyers should not notice any change in service: Amazon can get the books and dispatch them within 24 hours. But the company’s margins may be taking a temporary hit. · Since suffering an annus horribilis in 1999/2000, when it had expanded too rapidly and when retailing was out of favour in the City, the bookselling chain Ottakar’s has made a confident recovery. It has posted a decent set of half-yearly results, even showing a sales rise during the notoriously flat World Cup period, and has announced that it is to expand beyond its heartland in market towns to open in large towns and cities. The strategy will result in some interesting competition with Waterstone’s and the expanding Borders chain.· Nicholas Clee is editor of the Bookseller.