No adult fiction title released in the January-through-June period managed to make the top 20 print bestsellers list in the first half of the year. In the first six months of 2015, two novels released that year, The Girl on the Train and Grey, held the first and third spots, respectively, on the print list and were #1 and #2 on the Amazon Top 20 Kindle E-books List.
Publishers have been expecting difficulty getting media attention for their books in the second half of 2016, as coverage of the presidential election dominates the various media outlets where authors usually drum up publicity. But in the first half of the year, the news cycle was already focused on the unusually entertaining Republican primary campaign season and news about terrorist attacks and police shootings. “Current events have gotten in the way” of publishers’s efforts to promote new books, said Carol Fitzgerald, president of The Book Report Network.
Whereas two new nonfiction books cracked the top-20 print list in early 2016—When Breath Becomes Air and Spark Joy—the absence of fiction titles may having something to do with timing. Stephen King’s End of Watch, for example, was released late in June and is still likely to put up solid numbers. Even so, End of Watch sold about 75,000 copies in its first week on sale—a good figure, but not close to the 354,0000 copies Grey sold last June, when it first hit bookstore shelves. Since the advent of e-books, gone are the days when franchise authors can regularly post huge opening-week sales of print books. And unlike last year, when Girl on the Train and Grey were both selling well in print and digital, the two lists in 2016 were very different.
Over the first six months in 2016, only three books appeared on both the Amazon top-20 e-book list and the BookScan top-20 print book list (The Girl on the Train, Me Before You, and When Breathe Becomes Air). In the first half of 2015, six books hit both lists. This year, the Amazon e-book list was led by The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza, published by U.K. digital-first publisher Bookouture. Bookouture had two other titles on the Amazon list, and the self-published The Shade of Vampire by Bella Forrest was #7.
Without a new book getting attention in both print and digital formats, it is hard to build a lot of momentum and word-of-mouth publicity, some industry insiders said. “Buzz happens, but less so,” said Alie Hess, a buyer at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass. “Girl on the Train and All the Light We Cannot See were the last ones.”
The three Bookouture books have been published in print, but sales have been modest. The Girl in the Ice sold about 5,000 print copies in the first half of the year, while The Girl You Lost by Kathryn Croft (in eighth place on the Amazon list) sold 3,000 print copies. (Amazon declined to release e-book unit sales for Ice or any book on its top-20 list.) In the 20th spot on the Amazon e-book list was When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker, published by Amazon’s Lake Union imprint; it sold about 5,000 print copies.
One publishing executive, who acknowledged being frustrated by her company’s difficulty in breaking out frontlist works, said people seem to be focused on reading just a few titles. Indeed, Jojo Moyes has enjoyed a long run with three editions of Me Before You, and The Girl on the Train and Life-Changing Magic have also had long runs. With people more pressed than ever for time, the theory goes, they don’t want to read something they may not like.
Cathy Langer, head buyer at Tattered Cover Book Store, credited “record-breaking” publisher support for creating long-running successes such as GOTT. Booksellers interviewed by PW generally agreed that there has not been a blockbuster new novel but said that is not necessarily a bad thing, pointing to a breadth of new titles that are selling well, if not spectacularly well.
Neither the booksellers nor publishers interviewed were prepared to say whether the dearth of new frontlist blockbusters is an aberration or the start of a larger trend. “It is curious,” said Stan Hynds, buyer at Northshire Bookstore. “I have no idea if this is a thing or an anomaly.”
Certainly there are big books coming. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released on July 31 with a 4.5 million first printing. Langer noted that the presidential election—which may have played a role in the frontlist malaise in the first half of the year—could end up helping sales. Her theory is that, going into the fall, “fiction is going to do really well because people can’t stand [the election coverage].” She added: “They need a distraction. Christmas will be huge.”
First-Week Print Sales of Top-Selling frontlist Adult Fiction January–June 2016
|Title||Author||Publisher||Pub. Date||Units Sales|
|End of Watch||Stephen King||Scribner||June 7||75,000|
|15th Affair||Patterson/Paetro||Little, Brown||May 8||66,000|
|One with You||Sylvia Day||St. Martin’s||April 5||61,000|
|The Last Mile||David Baldacci||Grand Central||April 24||57,000|
|Bay of Sighs||Nora Roberts||Berkley||June 14||51,000|
Source: Nielsen Bookscan, Publishers Weekly.