I wasn’t aware of this, but Nielsen has gotten into the business of keeping tabs on book sales as well as television ratings, at least in Britain (I tried to find their equivalent U.S. site but was unsuccessful). They recently released the numbers on the 100 top-selling books since they began keeping records in 1998. The results were illuminating.
First, I think it’s necessary to note the absence of the Bible on the list. I remember reading somewhere years ago that industry trackers do not include sales of Bibles in their figures; they always top the list and are of comparatively little worth to publishers looking for the next hot idea. Even in today’s secular age, no one seems to be able to outsell God.
That being said what is on the list? The Da Vinci Code is #1, selling 4.5 million copies in the UK. This proves that you can make lots of money selling mangled historical fiction to people eager to read something that debunks Christianity. Dan Brown also took the #4 spot with Angels and Demons.
Fiction for young readers takes the rest of the top spots: all seven Harry Potter books and Twilight. This is probably to be expected given the huge media coverage these books have gotten, plus the fact that J.K. Rowling is a Brit. Harry Potter is worth a read; the books aren’t great literature, but Rowling is a good storyteller. Twilight . . . not so much.
Most of the books further down the list are fiction (Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series are prominent), but there are some surprising and even encouraging non-fiction books, too. For example, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a book on punctuation, is #41, showing that there is still some interest in preserving the English language. The outstanding Dangerous Book for Boys (a favorite of my son) clocks in at #81.
There is a refreshing absence of political titles on the list with the exception of Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, which is probably on the list because George W. Bush was about as popular as toejam in Britain during his presidency.
All in all, the numbers reveal a public that may not have very refined tastes but is still interested in reading. I hope statistics in America (if anyone is compiling them) will reveal something similar.