Special Bulletin
16 December 2015

Pre-Christmas survey 2015: Booksellers surprised by strong sales x

The majority of booksellers are experiencing an increase in sales this Christmas after a more subdued lead-up to Christmas last year. Eighty percent of stores surveyed reported a rise in sales, 17% said sales were similar to last year and only three percent said sales were worse. In 2014, the results were more mixed, with 46% of respondents reporting an increase in sales, 24% reporting a drop and 30% reporting a plateau.

The boost in sales has taken a lot of stores by surprise, with 77% responding that sales are better than expected, while 22% said sales are close to expectations and just one percent said sales are worse.

Books+Publishing received feedback from representatives of almost 300 bookshops around Australia. In contrast to 2014, this year the chains are faring better than the independent bookshops, with 84% of chains reporting an increase in sales compared to 68% of indies. Twenty-three percent of indies said sales were similar to last year (chains 15%) and nine percent of indies said sales were worse (chains 1%). Last year, 54% of indies reported an increase in sales, ahead of chains at 44%.

The average increase in sales for independent bookshops that reported results to Books+Publishing was 15.6% (up from 11.2% last year), while the average decrease in sales was 9.6% percent (9.1% last year).

Early start to the Christmas sales?
Most respondents (64%) said the Christmas rush came the same time as last year, with 28% reporting an earlier rush and just 8% a later one. The results are less divided than last year, when 53% reported a later rush, 37% reported an earlier rush and 10% said the rush was unchanged.

This year, one store reported that the rush was ‘at least a month earlier’, while another said it had started building in mid-October. Yet another observed that ‘the stores in shopping centres started earlier, but the stores on strips are about the same as last year’.

Related stories

Nielsen BookScan figures: Volume and value up; 23% growth in top 51-100
The books: Kinney, Szubanski, Bryson
Supply, stock, staff and sales
Online sales and ebooks
Publishers’ perspectives
High hopes for Christmas


Nielsen BookScan figures: Volume and value up; 23% growth in top 51-100 x

Sales in the 10 weeks to 5 December are up 4.2% in value and 0.2% in volume this year compared to the same period in 2014, reports Nielsen BookScan.

Interestingly, this growth has been driven by titles in the top 51-100, which are up 23% in volume and value this year. By comparison, the volume of the top 50 is down 2.4% and the value is down 7.6%. Below the top 100, volume is down 0.7% and value is up 5.2%.

The adult colouring trend has continued into Christmas, with adult colouring books representing 20% of the top 100 titles over the 10-week period.

The average selling price is up 4% to $17.85 overall, and up 6% to $17.75 for the titles outside the top 100. The discount off RRP for the top 100 is about the same as the last two years, sitting at 35%.


The bestsellers for the past four weeks of sales, according to Nielsen BookScan, are:

Top 5

  • Old School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
  • Everyday Super Food (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph)
  • Guinness World Records 2016 (Guinness World Records)
  • Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland (Millie Marotta, Batsford)
  • Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom (Millie Marotta, Batsford)

Top 5 Australian

  • Spirits of the Ghan (Judy Nunn, William Heinemann)
  • The 65-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan)
  • Rain Music (Di Morrissey, Macmillan)
  • The Lake House (Kate Morton, A&U)
  • The Dressmaker (Rosalie Ham, Duffy & Snellgrove).

The books: Kinney, Szubanski, Bryson x

Fewer booksellers are impressed by the books on offer this Christmas. Only 42% of respondents thought the Christmas range was strong, compared to 65% who said the same for Christmas 2014. However, the percentage of booksellers who are disappointed with the range fell from 34% to zero this year. Fifty-eight percent said the range is moderate.

Low price-points and a weak fiction range are among the reasons some booksellers rated this season’s range as moderate. ‘No big titles, things undercutting itself price-point wise and everything came out months ago,’ said Andrew Schwartz from Area 52. Big W books buyer Melanie Barton said children’s books were weaker ‘by a long way’, particularly for teens, while another bookseller lamented the weak titles in biography and military.

Those who responded more positively said there was balance across the genres. ‘Last year we had some huge Australian titles—The Bush, Julia Gillard, Narrow Road, David Walsh—this year it’s more spread out,’ said Readings’ Mark Rubbo. ‘There’s an excellent range across all genres which makes it easier to recommend and sell to customers,’ said another bookseller.

Most-mentioned titles
The most-mentioned Christmas titles this year were:


  • The Secret Chord (Geraldine Brooks, Hachette)
  • The Lake House (Kate Morton, A&U)
  • ‘The Neapolitan Novels’ (Elena Ferrante, Text)
  • All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr, HarperCollins)
  • The Dressmaker (Rosalie Ham, Duffy & Snellgrove)


  • Reckoning (Magda Szubanski, Text)
  • The Road to Little Dribbling (Billy Bryson, Doubleday)
  • Keating (Kerry O’Brien, A&U)
  • Island Home (Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton)
  • Everyday Super Foods (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph)


  • Old School: Diary of Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin)
  • The 65-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, Pan)
  • The Day the Crayons Came Home (Drew Daywalt, illus by Oliver Jeffers, HarperCollins)
  • Grandpa’s Great Escape (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
  • Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic).

Coloured pencils the top nonbook item

Unsurprisingly, coloured pencils topped the most-mentioned list for nonbook items, although a handful of booksellers also considered colouring books as a nonbook item.

Calendars, cards, and games and puzzles (including the Melbourne Monopoly set and a Roald Dahl quiz game) are also selling well.

Readings’ Mark Rubbo said nonbook items are ‘about the same as last year’. ‘Music is up for the first time in ten years,’ said Rubbo, adding that DVDs are slightly down—‘the impact of streaming probably’.

Some unusual nonbook items include a ‘Bees of New South Wales’ poster by a local natural history illustrator and cotton kimonos and pyjama pants.

Moderate response to catalogues
Customers are less enthusiastic about booksellers’ catalogues this year, with only 34% of booksellers reporting a strong response to their catalogue compared to 71% last year. However, most reported a moderate response (up from 1% in 2014) and only 1% reported a disappointing response (down from 28% in 2014). The number of bookstores producing a catalogue (95%) is unchanged from last year.


Supply, stock, staff and sales x

This year there was much more frustration from booksellers over delays in supply and damaged goods, mostly directed at UBD, although Scholastic was also mentioned several times.

‘UBD are very poor. Loads of damages, split deliveries, long delays in getting returns authorisations,’ said Max Shirley from MacLean’s Booksellers, reflecting the comments of many booksellers. Gleebooks’ David Gaunt was also critical of UBD and TOLL ‘for their combined failure to sort out chronic delivery issues’. In last year’s pre-Christmas survey, several booksellers highlighted issues with UBD’s freight company TOLL.

Tim White from Books for Cooks also reflected that ‘with the concentration of the industry into several sheds, logistics of supply have been worse’, while ‘publishing restructures and mergers over the year have resulted in tighter credit and less flexibility’.

A train derailment affected deliveries for several WA booksellers. Many booksellers also commented on the lack of stock for Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling (Doubleday) and Adam Spencer’s Enormous Book of Numbers (Xoum).

The majority of booksellers (54%) said they were carrying more stock this year, compared to 29% in 2014. Forty-five percent said they were carrying the same level of stock (67% in 2014) and only 1% said they were carrying less stock (4% in 2014).

Ian Horton from Farrells Bookshop said he was carrying ‘marginally more stock, mainly due to a stronger cross-section’, but also ‘hedging a bit against stock running out’. Several booksellers said their stock was boosted this year by adult colouring books, although Sue Cole from Mary Who? Bookshop thought she had over-ordered on adult colouring titles, which she said are ‘now being sold everywhere’.

The majority of booksellers (69%) have kept the same number of staff this year as last year, with just seven percent putting on more staff and 24% putting on fewer staff. These percentages mirror last year’s.

The popularity of the post-Christmas sale continues to decline. Fifty-eight percent of booksellers said they were not planning to hold a sale either before or after Christmas, up from 52% last year and 44% the year before. Forty-one percent were planning a post-Christmas sale (down from 47% last year) and just one percent were planning a pre-Christmas sale (also one percent in 2014).


Online sales and ebooks x

While the majority of bricks-and-mortar booksellers (84%) have embraced ecommerce, either through their own website or through a chain website, 16% of those surveyed said they don’t sell print books online, including a handful who don’t have a website at all.

The majority of the independents who responded to the survey said that online sales of print books were either the same as last year or had increased by up to 10%. None of the indies surveyed currently sell ebooks, and only a couple said they plan to in the next 12 months.

All of the major chain bookstores are selling print and ebooks from their websites, with online print book sales ranging from ‘about the same as last year’ to ‘increased by more than 50%’. Ebook sales ranged from ‘decreased by up to 10%’ to ‘increased by more than 50%’.

Strong sales for online-only retailers

It’s shaping up as another strong Christmas for Australia’s online-only booksellers. Books+Publishing spoke to the representatives of several Australian online-only retailers, including market leader Booktopia and its recently acquired business, Bookworld. All of the online-only stores surveyed have reported an increase in sales this Christmas.

Booktopia book buyer John Purcell told Books+Publishing sales were strongest in fiction, children’s books and biographies, with the highest sales coming from Johanna Basford’s colouring books (various publishers), Elf on the Shelf (CCA&B), Old School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin), Keating (Kerry O’Brien, A&U), Fromelles and Pozieres (Peter FitzSimons, William Heinemann), Harry Potter: The Official Colouring Book (Hardie Grant), The Lake House (Kate Morton, A&U) and Andy Griffiths’ books (Pan).


Publishers’ perspectives x

Publishers are pretty pleased with the way Christmas is shaping up, with the majority reporting an increase in sales compared to last year and just a handful reporting a plateau or decrease. Half said Christmas sales are better than expected, while another half said they’re close to expectations—a trend that was consistent across big, medium-sized and small publishers.

Numerous publishers highlighted the impact of the adult colouring boom on their Christmas sales, with Murdoch Books’ sales and marketing director Matt Hoy suggesting the trend ‘has encouraged more people into shops who’ve clearly been buying other things while they were there’.

A couple of publishers also reflected on the change in Prime Minister, with Simon & Schuster MD Dan Ruffino observing that it ‘seems to have unleashed a wave of consumer and business confidence’, and Australian Scholarly Publishing director Nick Walker also commenting on the ‘vitalising effect of a new, fresh-thinking government’.

Ebook sales were less of a talking point this year. Among the large and medium-sized publishers, half said ebook sales were up on last year and half said they were about the same, while most small publishers said ebook sales were up.

Typically, publishers couldn’t seem to agree on whether the Christmas rush had come earlier than, later than or about the same time as last year—and were fairly evenly split between the three choices. Overall, however, they seem inclined to be positive about Christmas, with roughly two thirds expecting sales to be excellent and another third simply okay.

Fiction and colouring books are the standout categories at Hachette, with joint MD Louise Sherwin-Stark reporting a ‘strong uplift for some of our key fiction authors this year including John Grisham, Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks and Ian Rankin’, as well as a new hardback edition of Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord. Grisham and Rankin are also selling well in ebooks, as are Robert Galbraith, C J Duggan and Janet Evanovich.

Allen & Unwin has a ‘particularly strong’ nonfiction list, says sales and marketing director Jim Demetriou. Biographies from Chris Judd (Inside), Kerry O’Brien (Keating) and Peter Garrett (Big Blue Sky) join Kate Morton’s The Lake House and Michael Connelly’s The Crossing on the publisher’s Christmas bestseller list. Ebook sales are also strong for Morton and Connelly, as well as Karly Lane’s rural romance Tallowood Bound, Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things and Sophie Laguna’s Miles Franklin winner The Eye of the Sheep. In the publisher’s Murdoch Books division, the bestsellers are Special Delivery (Annabel Crabb & Wendy Sharpe), Wildscapes (Stephanie Holm), the ‘Color Me’ series, Nutella and Heal Your Gut (Lee Holmes).

Colouring books and ‘established brands’—including Andy Griffiths, Di Morrissey, Dr Karl, Guinness World Records, Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar and David Baldacci—are leading Pan Macmillan’s growth this year. Well-known authors are also dominating Penguin Random House’s Christmas bestsellers list, with popular titles such as Spirits of the Ghan (Judy Nunn), Everyday Super Food (Jamie Oliver), Fromelles and Pozieres (Peter Fitzsimons), Island Home (Tim Winton) and Old School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney). Joining Nunn and Winton on PRH’s ebooks bestseller list are several international titles: Personal (Lee Child), The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) and The Pharaoh’s Secret (Clive Cussler).

Colouring books and memoir are the two standout categories at HarperCollins, with strong sales from Millie Marotta, Tim Cahill, Donna Hay, Nick Cummins (the Honey Badger) and Richard Glover.

Hardie Grant’s bestsellers include its Star Wars range, Food Safari Fire (Maeve O’Meara), Chappy (Paul Chapman), Those Summers of Cricket and Coco Chanel (Megan Hess). ‘We have a broad spread of titles selling well across our adult and children’s lists,’ says sales director John O’Brien, adding that the colouring boom has also boosted sales for the publisher.

Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project remains a Christmas bestseller for Text, although sales have dropped somewhat from last year when The Rosie Project and its sequel The Rosie Effect were ‘absolutely flying’, says sales and marketing director Kirsty Wilson. ‘This year we have a wider range of fiction titles doing very well, and one standout nonfiction title—the Szubanski,’ says Wilson. Joining Simsion and Szubanski on Text’s Christmas bestsellers list are ‘The Neapolitan Novels’ (Elena Ferrante), The Heat (Garry Disher) and Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change It (Daniel Klein).

‘For Christmas 2014 we put all our eggs in the Adam Gilchrist and It Happened in a Holden basket,’ says Affirm Press sales and marketing director Keiran Rogers. ‘This year we have seven or eight titles selling really well.’ They include Great Australian Urban Legends (Eamon Evans), The Western Front (Phil Dwyer & Helen Duffy), It Happened on a Fishing Trip (ed by Paddy O’Reilly), Best Australian Comedy Writing (ed by Luke Ryan) and Bruce Postle: Sport (Bruce Postle).

Children’s illustrated books and literary nonfiction are strong at Bloomsbury, with strong sales for the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Queen of Shadows (Sarah J Maas), M Train (Patti Smith), Sweet Caress (William Boyd) and The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood); while at Simon & Schuster, ‘Dork Diaries’ titles are ‘flying off the shelves’, along with nonfiction from Khloe Kardashian, Tyler Oakley and Mark Tedeschi, and Isabelle Allende’s The Japanese Lover.

Sales are up at small press distributor Dennis Jones, with two lead titles from Melbourne Books—Moroccan Soup Bar (Hana Assafiri) and The Grade Cricketer (Dave Edwards, Sam Perry & Ian Higgins)—under reprint. However, one small publisher also observed that ‘indie publishers go backwards over Christmas’ as booksellers make room for the ‘big-ticket’ titles from the larger publishers.


High hopes for Christmas x

Optimism has returned to the industry, with a whopping 80% of booksellers expecting Christmas sales to be ‘excellent’, compared to 28% last year and 56% the year before. Nineteen percent are expecting Christmas sales to be ‘okay’ (72% in 2014) and just one percent are anticipating ‘disappointing’ sales (one percent in 2014).

Strong sales in the lead-up to Christmas and a broad range of titles are undoubtedly contributing to the buoyant mood, although the problems with deliveries have dampened things a little.

‘Overall I feel confident, as long as we can get the books in a timely manner,’ said Heather Dyer from Fairfield Books. ‘Deliveries are uncertain, so I feel I will have to call last orders early [this] week, which is poor.’ She adds: ‘I think there are a lot of great books out there across the range. Something for everyone.’

Dymocks’ head of merchandise and marketing Sophie Higgins is also expecting an excellent Christmas for the bookselling chain. ‘This Christmas is shaping up to be our biggest as a network overall in five years. The range is excellent, our booklover program and promotional activities are performing strongly—it’s a great time to be a bookseller and also a booklover.’




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