Familiarity Breeds…Ummm…Moderate Book Sales

It’s no secret that breaking into the best-seller ranks, especially in hardback sales, is becoming increasingly difficult for new fiction authors. This week, Publisher’s Weekly reported on the top-selling hardcover authors in 2010. The big dogs dominated, and most have been successfully keeping others away from the kibble for several years.

Airport kiosk favorite James Patterson held six of the top spots on the list of thirty. Other familiar names crowded the field, including horror author Clive Cussler, mystery writer Janet Evanovich, and romance novelist Nora Roberts. Dominating not just hardback sales but trade paper, paperback, and e-books as well was Stieg Larsson, author of the The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest as well as the other novels in the Girl series.

A few newcomers did manage to muscle into the top spots, among them Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. First-time novelist Kathyrn Stockett made the bestseller list with her novel, The Help, in 2009 and maintained her status in 2010.

But for veterans and the lucky few newbies to make top sales alike, the news really isn’t all that great. Sales are way down across the spectrum, and hardcovers  perhaps not surprisingly, given the economy and the popularity of e-readers, are seeing the lowest sales in years.  PW says that only “126 works of fiction…claimed sales of more than 100,000, only slightly fewer than the 130 in 2009, but 19% fewer than the 156 in 2008.”

In order to encourage sales in hardcover, many vendors offer steep discounts on bestsellers, often 25% to 30% off list prices, but of course, this cuts into the bottom line.

When was the last time you bought a hardcover book? Did you pay full price?