Harry Potter hides fall in number of books sold a downturn in book sales

By Louise Jury Media Correspondent

The book industry is reporting a record 12 months boosted by the popularity of Harry Potter, which has helped J K Rowling to sell more copies in Britain in a year than any other author has done.

The book industry is reporting a record 12 months boosted by the popularity of Harry Potter, which has helped J K Rowling to sell more copies in Britain in a year than any other author has done.

Takings are nearly 2 per cent up on this time last year, although bookshops recorded £65m of sales in the final week before Christmas 2000, according to Whitaker BookTrack, which compiles the bestsellers' lists.

Yet there is some evidence that these record figures hide a downturn in the actual number of books sold. Jo Henry, an analyst at Book Marketing Ltd, said: "People are selling fewer books at higher prices. Our view is that last year, when Harry Potter was such a huge hit, the children's market rose in value but fell slightly in volume. People bought one more expensive Harry Potter hardback instead of several cheaper paperbacks."

Although the television chefs Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith are vying for the bestselling Christmas title, with only 326 copies separating them, 2001 has clearly been J K Rowling's year. She had four titles in the latest weekly top 10 released before Christmas and would have been number one if the combined sales of different editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were used.

For the 50 weeks to 15 December, Harry Potter stories filled four of the top five places for total sales. Bridget Jones's Diary was fourth. The Philosopher's Stone was Britain's best-selling title of the year, with 1.1 million copies.

The appeal of the young bespectacled wizard to adults as well as children produced total Potter sales of more than four million, which Nicholas Clee, the editor of The Bookseller magazine, hailed as a book trade record. "I can't see any sign of Harry Potter peaking yet. I'm sure it will go on," he said.

What makes J K Rowling's sales all the more surprising is that there was not even a new Harry Potter title this year. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth and most recent book in the series, was first published to hysterical attention in July of last year.

A small number of blockbusters have contributed to the industry's bumper year. Works about Posh Spice and Robbie Williams and a number of well-received novels, including Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Tony Parsons' Man and Boy, produced strong hardback sales.

The release of the first instalment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy boosted interest in J R R Tolkien's novels by 600 per cent. If different editions were added together, Lord of the Rings would have been number six in the Christmas top 10, nearly half a century after it was first published.

Mr Clee said: "The book sales figures throughout 2001 have been consistently ahead of last year and last year was ahead of the year before – although 1999 sales were pretty flat. My impression is that it's the big bestsellers that are really making the market perform so well."

Total sales figures have been available only since the 1990s. But a spokeswoman for Whitaker BookTrack, whose staff now compile the data, said book sales were worth £1.8bn last year compared with £1.7bn in both 1998 and 1999.

The market research company Mintel says there has been a small increase in book sales in recent years, with people in the more affluent and educated ABC1 brackets tending to buy more. It believes the single most important driver in the market is education.

The final top 10 bestseller list before christmas

1 Happy Days with the Naked Chef ­ Jamie Oliver 58,811

2 Delia's How to Cook: Book 3 ­ Delia Smith 58,485

3 Billy ­ Pamela Stephenson 57,962

4 Guinness World Records 2002 50,962

5 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

­ J K Rowling 47,429

6 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ­ J K Rowling 45,630

7 Da Gospel According to Ali G ­ "Ali G" 45,039

8 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
­ J K Rowling 40,144

9 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
­ J R R Tolkien 36,318

10 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

­ J K Rowling 31,953

Source: Whitaker BookTrack

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