In the battle for Christmas book sales the competition has come down to two giants of tween fiction.
On one side are the homegrown anarchists, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, and on the other is the all-American Wimpy Kid.
This year’s contest appears to be a rerun of last year’s dash-to-the-finish when Jeff Kinney’s eighth instalment of the Wimpy Kid Series, Hard Luck, ran down the 39 Storey Treehouse and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
Only a late resurgence from the Man Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan, and Matthew Reilly’s latest blockbuster, The Great Zoo of China, a Jurassic Park with dragons, might upset Kinney and Griffith’s quest for sales domination.
But there is no enmity between fellow travellers. Jeff Kinney, says Griffiths, is “welcome to come and play in our treehouse any time”.
Strong growth in children’s book sales have generally marked a year of moderate growth and consolidation for independent and chain booksellers in Melbourne and Sydney – a year in which political biographies disappointed, the celebrity memoir proved a covert bestseller and online sales soared.
“The fact that children are still coveting and choosing books over all the other enticements in TV, movies and the internet really speaks to the unique power of the written word,” says Dymocks’ buying manager, Sophie Higgins. “Perhaps also the fact that parents know how important it is for children to have strong literacy skills.
“Our growth, calendar year-to-date, is well into double digits and last year was also a growth year for children’s books; it really is such a good news story.”
After initial fizz, interest in political biographies has fallen away, with the exception of Julia Gillard’s My Story. Kinokuniya made a conscious decision not to promote political biographies in its Christmas catalogue, correctly guessing interest in them would wane.
“I think people have had enough,” says Jon Page, general manager of Mosman’s Pages & Pages. “We lived once with all the media speculation and I really don’t think people are keen to relive it all in book form.”
Mark Rubbo, managing director of Melbourne’s independent book chain Readings, says the Gillard book sold well on first release but hasn’t maintained the sales intensity.
“I wildly predicted that we would sell 10,000 copies and so far we have sold over 2000 – still very good but way off 10,000.”
Celebrity biographies from the likes of Lena Dunham, John Cleese, Amy Poehler and Cary Elwes have been racing out the door, according to Kinokuniya, while short story collections or novellas from Christos Tsiolkas, Michelle de Kretser, Patrick Rothfuss, Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel have ben selling in place of full length fiction.
Such is the interest in Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer and Poehler’s Yes Please, Rubbo suggests non fiction titles by feisty women should become a new sub-genre.
The online Australian bookstore, Booktopia, expects its biggest sales ever in the run up to December 10, its Christmas order cut-off, capping off a year of strong sales across hundreds of titles, instead of the sharp peaks of previous years.
Chief buyer John Purcell predicts Big Little Lies, The Rosie Effect, The Great Zoo of China to be popular holiday reads.
Page has reordered Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North a dozen times since the author’s Man Booker prize win.
Last year Dymocks recorded some of its biggest pre-Christmas sales days. This year, says Higgins, sales are largely positive but much more variable, week to week.
At Readings, overall sales are up slightly on last year, online sales by a “huge amount”. Other booksellers Rubbo knows report similar experiences.
It’s been a strong year for Pages & Pages but the next three weeks makes or break the year. “Let the madness begin,” says Page.