Readers hunger for two trilogies, but other publishers profit-starved

Best sellers ... a calender of Australia's biggest book for each week of 2012.
Best sellers ... a calender of Australia's biggest book for each week of 2012.

THE erotic fantasies of a middle-aged woman from west London dominated book sales in Australia last year and cast a grey - or should that be pink? - tint over bookshops around the country.

E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, sold almost 3 million copies. And her publisher says a further 750,000 were sold as ebooks.

The title volume sold almost 1.3 million copies, 450,000 more than Darker, which was the next best-performing title. The trilogy has sold more than 65 million copies around the world.

Fifty Shades of Grey was top of the national best seller lists for 21 consecutive weeks and James's saga of the carnal encounters of Ana Steele and Christian Grey was knocked off top spot by the first novel for adults by J.K. Rowling, creator of another recent publishing phenomenon, the Harry Potter books.

But the sudden shift of erotica into the mainstream market was unable to prevent a dip in the number and value of books sold last year. Volume fell 6.3 per cent to 56.6 million, worth $978 million, a 9.3 per cent drop on 2011. Without the contribution of James's trilogy, sales would have fallen by 11.2 per cent and value by 12.5 per cent, according to Nielsen BookScan's tally of sales.

Another trilogy, The Hunger Games, took up three places in the top 10, while the late Bryce Courtenay was the best-performing Australian writer, with his final novel, Jack of Diamonds, selling 164,000 copies since mid-November.

The success of Fifty Shades and The Hunger Games boosted the coffers of their respective publishers but for others it had a dampening effect. When Penguin's parent company, Pearson, announced first-half results for last year showing a drop in sales and operating profit, the outgoing chief executive, Marjorie Scardino, blamed the falls on the success of the trilogies.

Gavin Schwarcz, the sales director of Random House, which published Fifty Shades, said its success had spawned other erotic series and had encouraged publishers to take more notice of self-published books.

He said its success had insulated Random against the tough conditions in the retail market. ''We are so lucky as an industry to get these things but as publishers you hope that it happens to you. Random was up [for the year] but if you took out Fifty Shades, we'd have been down as well.''

The managing director of Dymocks, Steve Cox, said his 74-shop chain sold 500,000 more books than in previous years but the average price was down from $23 to $15.60. He was optimistic about this year, despite tough conditions. ''People are reading and buying more books than ever before but customers are shopping differently. There are multichannels, multi-formats and multi-devices.''

Mr Cox said last year was a tipping point at which the significance of the dedicated e-reader had peaked. ''The tablet has taken over - we've seen that in figures from the US. People are embracing multiplatform devices.''

Courtenay pipped second-placed Anna Funder's Miles Franklin-winning novel, All That I Am, by 75,000 in the list of Australian books. Jamie Oliver dominated the food sector, with Jamie's 15-Minute Meals selling 312,000 copies and 2011's No.1 performer, Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, selling 100,000 on top of its earlier 221,000. His books were two of the four cookbooks (along with Donna Hay's Fresh and Light and Michelle Bridges's The No Excuses Cookbook) in the top 10 non-fiction list, which again included Anh Do's consistent seller, The Happiest Refugee.

The children's sector was dominated by Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games books and five instalments of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Black Caviar was not a winner, with Gerard Whateley's biography of the champion mare coming in 40,000 copies behind the late Jim Stynes's memoir, which sold 87,000 copies. In the political sector, George Megalogenis's The Australian Moment sold 18,000, pipping Maxine McKew's Tales from the Political Trenches by 6000 copies.

This story Readers hunger for two trilogies, but other publishers profit-starved first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.