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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Those bestseller lists

In New Zealand, it is reported that Whitcoulls is no longer going to release sales figures to Nielson data collectors.

Naturally, not having the Whitcoulls figures will damage the reliability of Nielson figures, as I believe the chain accounts for about 40% of the market.

But is it bad news?

The Nielson data is of great value to publishers who want to keep track of book sales -- including those of authors published elsewhere. It has helped editors to make an educated guess about how well a book proposal from a previously published writer was likely to sell.

Writers, however, might heave a sigh of relief. In the past, editors might take a gamble on a great manuscript from a relatively unknown author. Once the hard, reliable figures were out, however, promising writers were all too likely to be doomed by less than wonderful previous sales, particularly of debut books.

Nielson figures are also used to produce a local “bestsellers” list, and so it is possible that the withdrawal of Whitcoulls will spell the demise of these.

Again, would this be bad news?

New Zealand nonfiction will always do well. There seems to be an inexhausible local market for books about Maori culture, biographies of New Zealand personalities, beautiful photographic essays, and cooking books with a New Zealand theme. Plus anything blokey, like rugby, fishing, and bikes. International visitors, particularly during huge promotions like the RWC, carry a lot of nonfiction books away with them, too – as do Kiwis who are visiting friends and family overseas. With such a range of great stuff on offer, and with personal interests so very much in play, bestseller lists are unlikely to be consulted.

As for New Zealand fiction, I have always thought the bestseller list equally irrelevant, but for a different reason. I am told that locally published fiction commands only 5% of the market, as people in general turn to international bestsellers – usually potboilers – for recreational reading. One would expect, however, that New Zealand novels are not so easily discarded after a quick peruse. In my humble opinion, the fact that New Zealand publishers have ensured that New Zealand fiction writing is of reliably high quality is more important than instant sales. Bestseller lists are ephemeral by nature, and the durability of so many of the novels that have been written by New Zealanders and published by New Zealand firms should be a matter of pride.

1 comment:

Greg said...

I don't think it is a big deal. As a self-published Kiwi author, the numbers have never been my friend. Not because The Spanish Helmet doesn't sell, but rather because prices in NZ for books are too high, resulting in many of my NZ customers ordering from The Book Depository or Amazon.

With regards to the 'high-quality' mention, there is a massive array of very high-quality Kiwi writing being declined by traditional houses because they are under such pressure from POD and eBooks or they are too focussed on feeding the non-fiction hunger that you also discuss. It is a shame that some of our best talent is having to go elsewhere.