It seems almost retro to be writing an article on 2011 bestsellers focused on print only, especially in a year that saw major gains in e-book sales and when one of the hottest holiday gifts was a Kindle. Current estimates put e-book sales at about 20% of total book sales, with higher figures projected for this year. According to an online CNNMoney report, the Kindle e-reader was Amazon’s top seller in December, boasting more than a million Kindles each week during the gift-shopping season. The story also noted that 2011 sales of e-book readers at Amazon outpaced 2010 sales by more than 175%.

The report also noted that Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs, was the retailer’s #1 book in December, with enough print copies sold to create a stack that would be higher than Mt. Everest. So bestseller history for print books will prevail for at least another year (or longer) as we analyze the ups and downs of bestseller real estate for print copies.

Short but Still Sweet

A trend that continues year after year is more titles landing on PW’s weekly bestseller charts, but with shorter tenures. In 2011, a total of 686 books landed on the four weekly top 15 charts; 2010 had 648 and five years earlier (2006), the total was 495. Both hardcover nonfiction and trade paperbacks set records for the number of books making a first appearance—199 for nonfiction and 84 for trade.

There were also a large number of titles ensconced on the charts from previous years, including 17 nonfiction hardcovers and 22 trade paperbacks. It is easy to see why getting on these weekly charts is a coup. It is even more difficult to achieve long-term attraction. In fiction, less than 25% of the 203 new titles on the charts lasted for more than a month; more than 25% only had a single appearance. Double-digit runs in fiction were also scarce, with only four 2010 holdovers and five 2011 new titles staying on the list for that length. The figures in nonfiction also continued the trend of more books with shorter runs. Less than 20% had a bestseller run of more than four weeks; 47% were on for a single appearance. Chances for a double-digit run were a tad better, with four 2010 holdovers and 12 newcomers making that grade in 2011.

The same scenario describes mass market longevity. Here, too, about 20% were on the list for five or more weeks, and single appearances were marked by 55 titles, accounting for about 27% of the new titles. It was a hard scramble to get to double digits in this category unless your name was George R.R. Martin. Four of his books did just that, and another four 2011 newcomers also enjoyed long tenures, including books by Michael Connelly, Sara Gruen, John Grisham, and James Patterson. Bestseller tenure was more prevalent in trade paperback; 35% had runs of five or more weeks, but at the same time almost 50% only had a single appearance. As usual, the news was also more upbeat for double-digit runs; 12 first-landers were on the list for 10 or more weeks as well as nine holdovers.

Considering the tougher competition, debut fiction had a good showing in 2011, though achieving traction was also a hard feat. Ten first fiction landed in 2011, but only two stayed on the charts for more than a month: The Night Circus managed seven weeks and The Art of Fielding held on for five weeks. Kudos to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, which continued its bestselling longevity in 2011 with an additional 18-week run, giving her 97 weeks total on the fiction list. The popular and critically acclaimed movie tie-in gave Stockett a 36-week run in trade paperback.

Conglomerate Muscle

Only the conglomerates are the major players in the bestselling power game. The top six—Random House, Penguin, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Macmillan—accounted for 89.8% of the hardcover slots and 81.3% of the paperback slots. Adding the additional four players featured on the table (p. 19) ups the total to 92.8% for hardcover and a whopping 96.9% for paperback. Thomas Nelson’s 49 weeks for Heaven Is for Real on the trade paper list is the strongest performance for a book not by the big six, but that will change in 2012 as its new owner is now HarperCollins.

As always, Random House continues to be the lead player on the 2011 charts in both hardcover and paperback, and last year it had significant gains on both lists, a 10.6% jump in hardcover and a 5.3% jump in paperback. The higher percentages gave it twice as much hardcover and paperback real estate as Penguin USA, the #2 player. And while strong performances by all of Random’s imprints contributed, Crown was the star, with 22 hardcover bestsellers adding up to 120 weeks on the charts compared with eight books and 32 weeks in 2010.

Penguin USA had the biggest drop in percentages—4.4% in hardcover and 4.7% in paper. While the number of its bestselling books in 2011 was the same as Random House, 160 apiece, its percentage loss was a clear demonstration to how shorter stays can affect numbers. Penguin’s 160 bestsellers included 144 titles that were on the charts four weeks or less, with only four 2011 bestsellers getting double-digit runs. Random’s 160 included 112 titles with four week or less on the charts and 25 books with double-digit runs.

Getting to #1

The number of books landing in the top slot last year was 87—up considerably from the 2010 figure of 69. The biggest jump was on the mass market charts, where 26 books enjoyed the lead position compared with only eight in 2010. Back then, three authors dominated; Stieg Larsson, Nicholas Sparks, and Dan Brown had their books at #1 for a total of 47 weeks. In 2011, Larsson still led the pack with six #1 appearances for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (its 2010 run was 24 weeks). Sara Gruen also had a six-week lead for Water for Elephants, followed by five weeks for John Grisham’s The Confession.

Three authors dominated the trade paper charts in 2011, including Gruen with eight weeks for her Elephant hit. Kathryn Stockett had a 23-week #1 run for The Help, and Todd Burpo led for 13 weeks with Heaven Is for Real. Only five other trade paperbacks made it on the charts.

The best shot for a chance at the top was in fiction hardcovers, where 37 titles made it to the top compared with 32 in 2010. But the challenges for these books were the same as in previous years; you have to get to that level the first on-sale week in the stores. In 2011, 35 hit the #1 slot the first week and only eight hung on for a bit longer. Getting to the top the first week in the stores was also more prevalent for nonfiction hardcovers, as 12 of the 16 that achieved that distinction did so their first week; eight held on for one week and another two for two.

Veterans and Power Players

Checking on our usual trio of veteran writers with multiple bestsellers we found some minor changes. In 2011, James Patterson (with help from co-writers), Nora Roberts, and Debbie Macomber had altogether 41 books with totals of 191 weeks on the hardcover and paperback charts. In 2010, their number amounted to 48 books totaling 184 weeks. Still, a new player’s achievement is even more noteworthy. The five books of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, A Song of Fire and Ice, were all on PW’s “Longest-Running Bestseller” chart. The newest hardcover, A Dance with Dragons, had a 19-week run, and the four earlier books made the mass market longest running group with a total of 99 weeks.

Few new trends emerge on the hardcover nonfiction charts as name recognition continues to be the key access to this ladder of success. Politicians and thespians are the dominant subjects, followed by cookbook authors (many from the Food Network) and diet and health books. Political figures—including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Mike Huckabee, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Jack Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, and many more—were the authors and/or subjects of bestsellers. There were tons of bestsellers from the small screen/large screen crowd including Tina Fey, Jay-Z, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mindy Kaling, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Betty White.

Perhaps the best title on the list was from independent publisher Akashic, whose Go the F**k to Sleep hit the big time with a 20-week run on the charts. The book went viral pre-publication, with leaked copies of the PDF running amok in the parental community. It deals with the frustrations of the bedtime hour for young kids, but the book’s title may be a warning to the industry. Go the F**k to Sleep should not be a mantra for how to deal with the fast-changing print or electronic publishing world. The better mantra would be Keep on Truckin’.