How many of us have purchased a book because there's been a movie adaptation, or because it's synonymous with a television programme? Are we all merely sheep waiting to be herded off to wherever the media shepherd wants us to go, or are we rebellious free thinking individuals, desperate to make our own choices? To gain a better insight, I looked at the top ten best selling books of 2011 based on the UK statistics compiled by Nielsen BookScan.
When combined, the ten best selling books of last year sold an admirable 4,244,388 copies, amounting to an attractive £27,672,050.94 in revenue. By far the biggest seller of last year was One Day by David Nicholls which pulled in £5,157,015.10 in sales. The Second place prize went to Jamie Oliver for his book, Jamie's 30-Minute Meals which actually accumulated more money in sales than One Day with a total of £6,617,423.26, due to its recommended retail price of £26.99. Then A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French came in at number three, followed by Emma Donahue's Room, and Kathryn Stockett's The Help. The Guinness World Records (2012) came next and Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy propped up the back end of the top ten best sellers. John Grisham's The Confession pushed itself in between the trilogy at number eight.
After viewing the list and recalling the interviews that I've conducted with a number of fiction authors, I worried whether there'd eventually be enough room at the inn. Would a stream of quality books face the prospect of being shunted outside because they lacked media muscle?
One Day (first published in 2009), The Help, and the Millennium Trilogy, have all been adapted to film. The Room was said to be inspired by a much publicized real life event, Jamie Oliver is a celebrity cook and along with Dawn French, a television regular. Even the Guinness World Records has had a television series. As far as I'm aware, only John Grisham's The Confession has no such media link as yet. A film or television connection, or a related matter in the public eye, is no guarantee for a book's immediate success but it helps. It can act like a slow burning oil lamp attracting the katydids, eventually helping the book to surge ahead.
I recently came across Jo Nesbo's Headhunters in a well lit store and stopped in my tracks, breaking out into an ice cold sweat because I recognized the cover. That's all, nothing more nothing less. At my local cinema a day earlier, Headhunters happened to be one of the movie trailers which I saw. Those clever PR people count on those situations, using recognizable faces from a film and sticking them on the cover of a book to hook us in. I resisted the temptation to buy it but only just and although I survived the moment, I felt just a little bit guilty for not going ahead with the purchase as I recalled the action sequences from the trailer. This business strategy is nothing new though. So when Tom Cruise finally arrives on the big screen in the guise of Lee Child's Jack Reacher, I won't be surprised by a movie tie-in book cover, and I expect the book One Shot which the film is based upon, to gain a new following. The existing Reacher novels should also benefit from an upsurge in sales too. Even if a new and wonderful novel emerges to compete against it, timing is everything and a film or television connection seems to be worth more, quietly directing us to our next purchase. Only time will tell if the overall sales figures for the end of this year will serve us up a different story.