Some UK crime-fiction statistics from The Bookseller

This week's Bookseller (28 May) has a page (40) devoted to crime-fiction statistics. Well, that sounds a bit grandiose – actually the page features two tables based on UK sales figures. Worth sharing, I thought. The first table is the "top 20 selected Scandinavian crime/thriller bestsellers (4 weeks ending 15/05/10)". There is a slight ambiguity here over the word "selected", but the bottom line is that Stieg Larsson takes 
250px-YrsaSigurðardóttir2009positions 1 to 4 for the Millennium Trilogy (3 and 4 are split between the "normal" and the film tie-in versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

Eight of the remaining slots are taken by Henning Mankell: The Italian Shoes (5) (not a crime novel, I've previously heard); Faceless Killers (9), The Dogs of Riga (10), The Pyramid (14), The Fifth Woman (17), Sidetracked (18) and Before the Frost (19), all Kurt Wallander novels, and The White Lioness (13). The remaining slots are taken by Jo Nesbo (The Snowman, 6; The Redeemer, 11; The Redbreast, 12; Nemesis, 16; and The Devil's Star 20); Yrsa Sigurdardottir (pictured, My Soul to Take, 7); Johan Theorin (The Darkest Room, 8) and Camilla Lackberg (The Preacher, 15).

The "units", Bookseller-speak for number sold in the 4-week time-period, vary from 123,384 for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest at no 1, to 624 for The Devil's Star at no 20. In fact, the Stieg Larsson books account for something over 310,000 sales between them, then we plunge to 4,000 for the next on the list (Italian Shoes), and 1,500 for the next (The Snowman). So although the list is nice to see, more than half of the books on it each sold between 600 and 1,200 copies over 4 weeks, a tidy amount, although not exactly creating any millionaires.

The second list is attempting to uncover "modern classics" of the genre. The criteria are that original publication was more than 5 years ago, and the sales period analysed is the same, the 4 weeks ending 15 May 2010. On the list of 20, Lee Child features eight times, at nos 1-6, 9 and 10, selling more than 13,000 copies of these titles during the identified 4 weeks. The other authors are: Chris Ryan (7, Zero Option); Kathy Reichs (8, Fatal Voyage and 16, Deadly Decisions); Joseph Heller (11, Catch-22, not sure that I would have included that title in this genre); Martina Cole (12, The Ladykiller and 17, The 
Berne  Know); John Grisham (13, The Partner, 20, The Last Juror); Karin Slaughter (14, Kisscut); Suzanne Berne* (15, A Crime in the Neigbourhood); Alexander McCall Smith (18, The No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency); and Andy McNab (19, Dark Winter). Sales of each title varied from 570 to 1,200.

My verdict on these choices as a reader? The Scandinavian list is great and I'd recommend any of those (there are a couple I haven't read but shall be reading). The "modern classic" list, on the other hand, I would not recommend. According to the Bookseller, many of the titles there have had a boost by being on 3 for 2 offers and/or heavy discounting during the 4 weeks. If I were to think of all the crime novels I have read over the past 5 years, very few if any of these would be on my list of favourites. I'd recommend trying Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Val McDermid and others for a "bestselling commercial formula" if that's what you are after, rather than this mix of mainly sub-gangster/sub-forensic "thrillers". Lee Child and John Grisham (better on place than plot) are pretty solid, Karin Slaughter has been good up until her last couple or so, and Alexander McCall Smith is very good at a somewhat gentler level than the others on the list.

I would have preferred to see a longer timeframe than 4 weeks in May to look at the 5-year-old (and more) "keepers", because of the skew provided by special offers and re-releases. But, what you see is what we get (because the Nielsen book sales tracker that provides the data for the Bookseller's tables is a proprietary system that the likes of you and me cannot query).

*I don't recollect having heard of Suzanne Berne before, and her books look interesting, so another author to check out! See the Guardian's review of The Ghost at the Table, for example. A Crime in the Neighbourhood, the novel in the bestselling list, was her debut and won the Orange Prize for fiction in 1999. I have struggled somewhat with previous Orange Prize winners, but this one looks worth a go.

7 thoughts on “Some UK crime-fiction statistics from The Bookseller

  1. This is very interesting and I do agree with your reservations about the list of ‘classics’. The trouble with stats based on heavy discounts and 3 for 2 offers is that many of the top sellers, even if not brand new, are virtually self-selecting. Any ‘classic’ has to have greater longevity, I’d suggest. And there’s room for debate as to how many of the titles in the list will still be read with enthusiasm in, say, 25 years’ time. Catch-22 is definitely a classic, but surely not a crime novel.

  2. The modern classics list surprises me too but then I’m not sure that you can extrapolate too much from a random 4 week period of sales figures. I think my statistics professor would have something to say about it not being representative enough. Who knows what ‘deals’ were being done during that time (3 for 2, ‘if you buy this new book by L Child we’ll give you this old one for free’ etc). I actually think the idea of looking for modern classics is a good one but I’d like to see sales figures for a longer period – even a year’s worth. And something I find particularly odd is that there isn’t a hint of James Patterson in the list – I’m fairly sure that me wishing him gone hasn’t made it happen and I’m sure UK bookstores are as full of his rubbish as ours…or is it that he has written so many books that no single one can get on such a list?
    As for the other list it just makes me more determined to give Jo Nesbo another go – I got tired of the Redbreast at about page 80 last year but I’ll persevere next time (wish the man could self-edit a little – the books are all daunting in size). I do wish Asa Larsson was on the list – I think THE SAVAGE ALTER was a better book than Henning Mankell’s FACELESS KILLERS – but I guess she hasn’t got a handy TV tie-in to help sell books.

  3. What a list! I’ll agree on the Scandinavian list and also would want Asa Larsson to be on it (except it took me a long time to recover from the blows inflicted in two books on her main woman character), but where is Arnaldur Indridason? All of his books were liked and well-read; my finicky friends all like his books.
    And while I admire and respect Henning Mankell personally and loved, “The Man from Beijing,” can’t get into Kurt Wallender’s books, too depressingly despondent, though I will read more stand-alones.
    What do you think of Camilla Lackberg? I’ve been grinding my teeth at my library for not having her books. Is it worth me ordering “The Preacher,” or “The Ice Princess,” from Book Depository or Amazon?
    At the mention of James Patterson’s name, I want to hold up my fingers up to give the anti-vampire signal. I got tired of Kathy Reichs a long time ago and the gratuitous violence in Karin Slaughter’s books turned me off. When I really need a book “fix,” I’ll turn to Coben or Connelly or Grisham. (Coben’s “Caught” gave me a relaxing weekend.) Lee Child, not so much anymore; too violent–and with relish, too. Ugh.

  4. Agreed with everyone about the stats, these are highly selective given the timeframe chosen. I wish they had done a more comprehensive list, eg all translated and all 5-year old crime fiction measured over a year, or something like that. The various offers and promotions do confound things, eg Jo Nesbo’s books are always on train station and underground posters in the London area, whereas you don’t see A. Larsson or Indridason being promoted in this way. Bit sad when you think this magazine is aimed at booksellers!
    Kathy – Lackberg is good I think but rather on the “romantic” or “women’s fiction” end of crime fiction. I suggest reading The Ice Princess as that is the first and I think best. I have enjoyed the rest but not as much as the first or as some other authors from the region.
    Asa Larsson – yes, her protag has certainly gone through it, but I think we will be seeing her books promoted a lot more now that Quercus has taken her on – look what they did for Stieg Larsson.
    Bernadette – I agree Nesbo’s books are very long and the endings are too baroque for me. However, I do enjoy them, Harry Hole is an engaging character, and the “set ups” are a challenge from the “puzzle” point of view.
    To anyone who hasn’t read Karin Alvtegen, I would highly recommend her. She’s had four books translated into English so far, and they are all different (not a series). The best one to start with in my opinion is Missing – short and very exciting. The author is Astrid Lingren’s (author of Pippi L and Kalli B books) niece, by the way.

  5. About the Scandinavian list: I hear there’s a buzz around a Swedish debut writer who writes crime thrillers in English; according to my source, Pegasus Books (who publish Lackberg) in New York are contemplating a manuscript by Karl Hultman (no, I never heard his name before either). It’s supposed to be a Lehane-style thriller. Anybody got more news about this? My source says they’re excited at the possibility to have landed another Swedish big-seller out of nowhere… without having to translate it. I googled the author, and all I found was a manuscript on authonomy.com; titled “Whoever Gets There First”. I guess it could be that ms, but I doubt it. Wouldn’t they have removed it from a website if Pegasus was going to sign with the author?

  6. No idea, Cucumber, but I’ve dropped your question in at Friend Feed to see if anyone there knows the answer. You could also try asking at the Nordic Bookblog.

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