Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fisking North & South on NZ novels part III

On 17 July at the Booksellers NZ conference Ka Meechan, Managing Director – Asia Pacific of Nielsen Book Data, gave a presentation full of hard data about book sales in New Zealand. Booksellers NZ has kindly made a free downloadable PDF of it available here.

It’s all interesting and useful material, though the PDF suffers a little from not having the inimitable Ka doing the voice-over. Still, page 35 will be of interest to readers who have followed my questioning of North & South’s claim that “Most New Zealand fiction sells a mere 300 copies”.

In the first 24 weeks of 2011 – from 1 January to 18 June – these were the 10 best-selling NZ fiction titles and this is how many copies each sold (sorry, dunno how to align the columns): 

1. Hand Me Down World, Lloyd Jones            1955
2. The Conductor, Sarah Quigley                     1617
3. As the Earth Turns Silver, Alison Wong        960
4. Hokitika Town, Charlotte Randall                  839
5. The Larnachs, Owen Marshall                       807
6. Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones                                 807
7. La Rochelle’s Road, Tanya Moir                    804
8. Wulf, Hamish Clayton                                     681
9. The Hut Builder, Laurence Fearnley               675
10. The 10pm Question, Kate de Goldi              669

Mister Pip was published in 2006, The 10pm Question in 2008, As the Earth Turns Silver in 2009, Hand Me Down World and The Hut Builder in 2010. They have all probably sold a few copies before. Truckloads, in some cases. The Hut Builder will inevitably sell loads more in the next six months because it won the fiction prize in this year’s NZ Post Book Awards.

Of the five books on the list published this year, Wulf was published on 31 January, Hokitika Town on 28 February, La Rochelle’s Road on 1 April, The Conductor on 6 May and The Larnachs on 3 June.

So in 16 days The Larnachs sold 807 copies and in 44 days The Conductor sold 1617 copies. La Rochelle’s Road sold 804 copies in 79 days. Wulf and Hokitika Town have sold a bit slower so far but you can bet there is word of mouth building for them both.

I’m pretty sure that Nielsen Book Data’s figures don’t include library sales. Those won’t be huge but from my experience of my own books should be at least a hundred, maybe two hundred, for most of these. It all adds up.

Unlike North & South’s claim that “Most New Zealand fiction sells a mere 300 copies”.


Mary McCallum said...

Go Stephen! Great to see these figures, thank you.

Gen said...

So if these are the 10 best selling items of NZ fiction, and the 10th best selling sold 669, the "300 odd" average for all NZ fiction still seems plausible. I guess you would need to provide figures on how much other fiction was for sale in the market over that period.

Stephen Stratford said...

@Gen: yes that's right - but N& S wasn't talking about the average, it was talking about "most". And remember that these figures are for only 24 weeks - N&S was talking about lifetime sales i.e. over two years at least.

Also, #10 with sales of 669 is The 10pm Question, which was published in 2008 and has been a bestseller since. For it to sell 699 copies in 24 weeks three years after publication is, frankly, amazing. Same goes for Mr Pip selling 807 copies in that period five years after publication.

nickyp said...

How does that compare to international titles though?

Stephen Stratford said...

Hi Nicky - have a look at the PDF. Loads of comparisons there across genres and NZ vs international. I can't follow all the graphs but you get the picture, as it were.

I suppose my main point is that sales of NZ fiction, while smaller than Larsson, Picoult etc, are a hell of a lot better than the N&S article made out.

Marion said...

Great work Stephen. I am a reader who is also a firm believe that we have our own Picoults,Larssons etc out there, we need to bring them along and nurture them as they do in Australia and then we might see the market for NZ books change and grow.The growth in the crime fiction genre speaks very clearly that this can be done, there is no good reason other than publisher intransience that this same growth could not be seen in other genres.

Max said...

While, absent some actual figures on how an average (or even most) New Zealand fiction - as distinct from the top 10 - sell, Stephen can't prove his point, the pithier point seemed to me to be:

- as we probably all knew already, New Zealand fiction is a slight proportion of overall bookbuying (from these figures, 4% of New Zealand-published (see p 32) and so just under 1% of total book sales (see p 31)) - which does not, incidentally, compare well to the 25% share for fiction of all book sales (p 17);

- of the top 10 (for the first half of 2011), 4 were also bestsellers for 2010 and at least 2 (Mr Pip and The 10pm question) were bestsellers in 2009; and

-from these figures (see pp 30-32), there look to have been something like 25,000 NZ fiction sales in 24 weeks and (from p 35) something like 10,000 of those were of the top 10; so

- it's hard not to get the impression that not only is hardly anyone reading New Zealand fiction (and far fewer than are reading fiction generally), but even that number is substantially dependent on a small number of comparatively highly successful books that sell well and keeping selling and, in turn, on a still smaller number of highly successful authors; and so

-it is quite possible that N&S are right in saying that most NZ books sell so few copies; and

- it's also quite possible that the broader N&S theme - that public funds are being spent on numbers of new books that almost no-one then reads - is correct too; and

- and, perhaps reinforcing that point, New Zealand fiction marked a decline in sales against the previous year, even though overall book sales improved (p 32).

It's no embarrassment, Stephen, to take the position that these books should be funded because, even if unread (or unreadable), they are culturally crucial. But the suggestion that, well, somehow, most NZ fiction is selling even remotely well (as some sort of justification for that funding) just isn't borne out.

To be outsold by Stieg Larsson is unfortunate; to have the top ten fiction books almost outsold by Paul Henry's bit of drivel (which didn't even go on sale until part way through the period surveyed) indicates a profound and worsening disconnection between the authors/funders and so forth and anyone who actually stumps up their own cash to read the results.