Super Thursday: Opening the books on Christmas sales

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Super Thursday

Come Christmas, what can you expect to find in that festive parcel under the tree? It could be the memoirs of Sir Tom Jones or Sir Terry Wogan, or a new cookbook by Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

These are some of the 503 new titles released on Thursday, and booksellers will be displaying them prominently in their windows, and in the front of their shops, between now and Christmas Day.

"Super Thursday" has recently become the biggest day of the year in the UK's book industry, when almost every publishing company releases its Christmas list.

And with Christmas presents accounting for 30% of all the books we buy, cookbooks and celebrity memoirs figure heavily in the line-ups because they remain the book world's most popular festive gifts.

However, this year's list is more varied than it was in 2014, and it includes new fiction by Martina Cole and Robert Harris, as well as Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling - his first travel book for 15 years. A number of booksellers welcome having a broader list.

"The market is getting very excited about things like the new book from Sir Alex Ferguson," says Brett Wolstencroft, the manager of Daunt Books in Marylebone, London.

"That is bound to sell well around Christmas. But as an independent bookshop in London, we are relying much more on sales of serious fiction."

E-book challenge

Super Thursday is a similar marketing concept to America's "Black Friday", which takes place in early November and marks the start of the US Christmas shopping season. It aims to encourage people to rush to the shops to snap up newly-released books.

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Harper Lee's long-awaited Go Set A Watchman was one of the best-sellers this year

Many booksellers are putting on events with authors. such as talks and book-signings, and there is also a campaign called Books Are My Bag, where free canvas book-bags designed by Grayson Perry and Lauren Child will be given away with purchases.

Last year, UK booksellers made £35m in sales on Super Thursday alone. This year, with a bigger list of books on offer, they hope to make more.

The book trade needs an effective marketing strategy because over the past decade printed books have lost a big chunk of their market to e-books.

Sales of these rose from virtually zero in 2005 to more than £300m last year, according to The Bookseller. Sales of printed books fell by the same amount, and over the same period, one-third of Britain's independent bookstores went out of business.

Sales bounce back

However, publishers and booksellers are managing to stem their losses. While sales of physical books - as they are now known - fell by 8% in 2013 and 2% in 2014, they have risen by 5% so far this year, according to the research company Nielsen Bookscan.

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Physical books have lost ground to e-books in many markets

It all depends on categories.

E-books outsell physical books in the market for adult popular fiction and erotic literature, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, and their sales peak in the first half of the year as people stock up on e-books to read while commuting, or on their summer holidays.

However, physical books still dominate in the fields of serious fiction and non-fiction - photographs and illustrations are better viewed on a page than on a screen. They have their peak sales in the pre-Christmas season, because almost everyone prefers to give a book as a gift rather than an e-book.

The biggest rise has been in sales of printed books for children and young adults, which are going up by about 10% a year. This has surprised publishers because young people are widely seen as the "digital generation" who are used to viewing content online.

Vloggers - or video bloggers - like Alfie Deyes and Zoella, have played a big part in leading young people back to print. Millions of teens and pre-teens watch them on their internet channels and both have produced physical books this year which have topped the non-fiction charts.

"Young people like having books as beautiful objects," says author James Dawson, who writes fiction for young people.

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The biggest rise has been in sales of printed books for children and young adults

"I think more and more publishers are investing in creating books which are almost pieces of art. Children like having a good-looking book to sit beside their colourful pencil cases and other possessions.

"You see on social media young people doing their 'shelfies', taking pictures of their colour co-ordinated books lined up like a rainbow. Young people have always been collectors of physical objects," he says.

The rise of the e-book


share of UK book purchases

  • 47% share of adult fiction

  • £393m spent on e-books

  • £1.7bn amount spent on print books

Unsurprisingly, then, this year's booklist features many more books for young people and children than in previous years. These include a new book from Michael Morpurgo, author of the play and film Warhorse, and Happy, by the singer Pharrell Williams.

Publishers may have been caught unawares by the boom in demand for books amongst young people, but they now see them as the cornerstone for rebuilding their industry.

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