There is one piece of good news that can be said about 2009—it's over. The decade ended in turmoil, disappointment, and loss for almost all businesses, and that included the book industry. But this annual feature celebrates the bestseller, the upside of the book business, at least for the lucky few that get to play in this high-stakes game.
Each year in the past decade the number of books that made a first landing onto PW's weekly bestsellers lists increased, and the 2009 tally continued that trend. A record 606 first-timers were on last year's lists, compared to 563 in 2008 and 496 back in 2005. The only category that did not see a rise in bestseller landings was mass market, with 200 new titles compared with 212 in 2008. And in trade paperbacks, the 2009 tally of 68 broke the record set back in 1993, when 60 new trade paperback books were recorded.
Another trend that continued in 2009 was short stays on the charts. In both fiction and nonfiction hardcover, about 50% of the titles had only one-week or two-week runs. Mass market fared a bit better, with about 46.5% of the bestselling titles on the weekly charts one or two weeks. In trade paperback, a mere 27.9% landed for two weeks or less. But in all four categories, the percentage of short stays set records.
Double-digit tenures on the charts were more of a mixed bag. In fiction, 10 books stayed on the charts for 10 weeks or more, one more than in 2008. Three of the titles—The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and The Host—also enjoyed double-digit runs pre-2009. The best long-term performance last year for a 2009 title was by The Help, a much heralded debut novel that was on the charts for 28 weeks. (The Host was on 29 times.) Mass market had 13 titles with double-digit runs, six more than in 2008. The most impressive author performance in this category was by Charlaine Harris. Eight of her Sookie Stackhouse paranormal titles were on the weekly lists, and five had double-digit runs. In total she claimed 101 spots in 2009, giving her 13.3% of all available mass market positions—a feat that no author on any of the four weekly lists even came close to matching.
In nonfiction, fewer titles had longer tenures. Eighteen books had runs of 10 weeks or more in 2009, compared with 25 in 2009. And fewer trade paperbacks had double-digit runs last year: 26 books were on the charts for 10-plus weeks compared with 30 in 2008.
Getting a book onto the weekly charts takes lots of cash, focus, and marketing muscle, so it is a given each year that the publishing conglomerates take up almost all of the slots on the weekly charts. Last year, five houses—Random House, Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins—accounted for 84% of all the hardcover bestseller positions and 72.6% of all the paperback positions. If you add in five more companies—Hyperion, Macmillan, Harlequin, Kensington and Workman—the hardcover and paperback percentages are 93.8% and 92.2%, respectively%.
Random House enjoyed more books and more weeks on both the hardcover and paperback weekly charts in 2009 than 2008, with a gain of 3.7% for both categories. Two RH titles with the longest tenure were Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels, strength trainer for TV's popular reality show The Biggest Loser, and Bill O'Reilly's A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity.
Hachette was the only other publisher that gained percentage points in both hardcover and paperback. A large portion of its hardcover gains can be attributed to two Little, Brown bestsellers—the strong performance by the debut novel The Help and also by Outliers, the only hardcover bestseller in 2009 that never missed a week. (The only other 2009 bestseller that had a perfect bestseller score was the trade paperback The Shack, published by Windblown Media and distributed by Hyperion.)
Penguin USA had a 2.1% gain in hardcover and a whopping 10.5% drop in paperback slots on the charts. The percentage loss was mainly in trade paperback. In 2008, the conglomerate had five longest-running bestsellers for a total of 205 weeks; in 2009, it had only one longest runner, with 47 landings.
Leading the Parade
The most desired spot on the charts is first place, and 86 titles spent some time in the top spot; 66 of these books landed in the coveted position during their first week in the stores. This was especially true for hardcover fiction. There were 35 front runners, and 33 made it to the top on their first week on sale. It was a short stay for most of them—25 dropped off the top after just one week. The best performance was Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, with a seven-week run in the lead; second best was John Grisham's The Associate, with four weeks in the #1 spot.
Traction was stronger for a few hardcover nonfiction titles. Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man led PW's weekly charts for 16 weeks—the longest run ever for an Amistad title. Two books—Outliers and Have a Little Faith—were #1 for five weeks.
In mass market, 14 of the 23 titles that were in the lead made it to that spot in their first week on sale and 11 never got a second chance for the highest slot. Longest tenure was The Associate, with eight weeks in the lead. Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper had a seven-week run in the lead and the Angels and Demons movie tie-in was in the lead for six weeks.
Only 10 trade paperbacks attained the #1 slot in 2009. Kudos to The Shack, with 17 weeks in the lead; it also led the 2008 trade list for 28 weeks. The Time Traveler's Wife came in second, with nine weeks in the lead, a position that was helped by the eponymous movie. Push, the inspiration for Precious—a movie with Oscar buzz—had a run of five weeks in the top spot.
Touting Authors and Topics
In both hardcover and paperback fiction, many veteran authors placed multiple books on the weekly charts. This is most prevalent in mass market, where genre fiction is the favorite topic and authors aim to publish many, many times annually. Three popular authors—Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, and James Patterson—had a total of 27 bestsellers appearing 102 weeks on the charts. If you add Charlaine Harris's eight bestsellers on the lists for 101 weeks, then these four authors owned more than 26% of the available 2009 mass market slots. Also, it is easier to get on the mass market list if you are a women. Of the 112 authors that graced the list, 75, or 67%, were female. For hardcover fiction the breakdown is more even—82 male authors vs. 77 female authors.
Popular nonfiction topics included biography, cookbooks, and sports. Making the charts were books by and about Patrick Swayze, Elizabeth Edwards, Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin, Michael J. Fox, Andre Agassi, Farrah Fawcett, Mackenzie Phillips, Larry King, and Edward Kennedy. There were new cookbooks from Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, Debbie Macomber, Paula Deen, and Bob Greene. And the popular movie Julie & Julia put the 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking back on the charts last year (including two weeks in the top spot). The sports title with the longest tenure: 14 weeks for The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.
A Final Thought
The analysis of 2009 bestsellers is based on sales of printed books—and that has been the case for more than a century. When will the sale of digital books become part of the count? A reasonable guess would be sometime in this decade. What is certain is that as digital book sales continue to grow, the weekly and annual bestseller charts will have to factor in their sales units. Yet another challenge for bestseller compilers and commentators.
BESTSELLERS BY CORPORATION
How the large companies fared on PW's '09 charts
|Company||# of Bks||# of Wks||% *Share||% +/- from '08||# of Bks||# of Wks||% *Share||% +/- from '08|
|* This figure represents the publisher's share of the 1,530 hardcover and 1,530 paperback bestseller positions during 2009. |
|Random House Inc.||100||389||25.4||+3.7%||55||322||21.0||+3.7|
|Hachette Book Group USA||39||245||16.0||+2.1||26||153||10.0||+1.5|
|Simon & Schuster||54||239||15.6||-2.9||38||175||11.4||+2.7|
PW'S 2009 LONGEST-RUNNING BESTSELLERS
|# of weeks on 2009 list||Fiction|
|29||The Host. Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown (30)|
|28||The Help. Kathryn Stockett. Putnam/Amy Einhorn|
|22||*Dead and Gone. Charlaine Harris. Ace|
|16||The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Dial (11)|
|# of weeks on 2009 list||Nonfiction|
|51||*Outliers. Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown (4)|
|40||*The Last Lecture. Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Hyperion (36)|
|37||*Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Steve Harvey. Amistad|
|26||*Liberty and Tyranny. Mark R. Levin. Threshold Editions|
|25||The Secret. Rhonda Byrne. Atria/Beyond Words (98)|
|22||Master Your Metabolism. Jillian Michaels. Crown|
|16||A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity. Bill O'Reilly. Broadway (12)|
|15||Dewey. Vicki Myron with Bret Witter. Grand Central (12)|
|15||Flat Belly Diet! Liz Vaccariello with Cynthia Sass. Rodale (5)|
|# of weeks on 2009 list||Mass Market|
|*These titles achieved the #1 spot during their 2009 tenure on PW's weekly bestseller lists. |
Numbers in parentheses show how many weeks the book was on PW's list prior to 2009
|28||From Dead to Worse. Charlaine Harris. Ace|
|26||Dead Until Dark. Charlaine Harris. Ace|
|19||*Angels and Demons. Dan Brown. Pocket Books (175)|
|15||Living Dead in Dallas. Charlaine Harris. Ace|
|15||Club Dead. Charlaine Harris. Ace|
|# of weeks on 2009 list||Trade|
|51||*The Shack. William P. Young. Windblown Media (37)|
|47||Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin. Penguin (68)|
|32||*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Dial (4)|
|31||Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout. Random House|
|27||The Art of Racing in the Rain. Garth Stein. Harper|
|25||*The Time Traveler's Wife. Audrey Niffenegger. Mariner|
|25||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson. Vintage|
|23||Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Quirk|
|21||*Glenn Beck's Common Sense. Glenn Beck. Threshold Editions|
|19||Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide. David Zinczenko. Rodale|
|17||Firefly Lane. Kristin Hannah. St. Martin's Griffin|
|16||The Reader. Bernhard Schlink. Vintage (34)|
|15||Dreams from My Father. Barack Obama. Three Rivers (49)|
|15||Sundays at Tiffany's. James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. Grand Central|
RANKING THE HOUSES
How the Divisions and Imprints Competed in 2009
|Publisher||# of Books||# of Weeks|
|Simon & Schuster||9||23|
|Simon Spotlight Entertainment||4||17|
|Farrar, Straus & Giroux||2||3|
|Spiegel & Grau||1||6|
|Alive & Well||1||1|
|TSR/Wizards of the Coast||1||1|
|Little, Brown/Back Bay||6||43|
|Washington Square Press||4||24|
|Three Rivers Press||3||27|
|Spiegel & Grau||1||12|
|Family Health Publications||1||7|
|Simon & Schuster||1||7|
|Simon Spotlight Entertainment||1||6|
|World Almanac Books||1||2|
|Star Trek MTI||1||1|
|All the numbers reflect first-time landings on the bestseller lists during a given year. |
* Record high for the given year.