In a week when Go Set A Watchman broke sales records, the book business might want to celebrate. Then again, it might not.
Harper Lee’s second novel lay unpublished for more than 50 years. When it finally appeared, readers swooped upon the tale of Scout and Atticus Finch in print and digital forms. “Watchman sold over 746,000 copies in its first week on sale, according Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales for about 80% of the print market. That performance will easily make it the #1 title on PW’s bestseller list, topping Grey by E.L. James, which still sold over 87,000 copies last week,” reports Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.
“Interest in Watchman has also provided a lift to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” he notes. “Grand Central Publishing’s mass market paperback edition sold over 36,000 copies in the week, while two trade paperback editions from HarperCollins have sold a total of about 62,000 copies at outlets that report to BookScan. The Harper Lee numbers will pretty much make HarperCollins’ year.”
Yet recently reported industry-wide sales figures are nothing to cheer about. According to Albanese, e-book sales for the first quarter of 2015 fell 2.5% in the adult segment from 2014, and a whopping 36.6% in the children’s/young adult categories. In addition, sales of hardcover and paperback were also down; overall first quarter sales in the children’s/YA category dived 15.9% over the previous year.
“The publishing business is now a hits-driven business. We see it with the decline in YA and kids books without big name authors like John Green and Veronica Roth driving sales,” Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “How many times can EL James retell 50 Shades of Grey? How many more books does Harper Lee have locked away? Happy as we may be for those big sales, there is cause for concern for the industry.”
Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.