The Christmas number one bestseller is an award normally associated with the music charts. Even in the time of streaming and downloads – compared to the past ages of buying actual records – looking at which song is most popular over the festive period is an iconic part of every year that even a pandemic cannot disrupt. 26 years after being released, Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ finally got that top spot.
Such an award is just as relevant to book publishing. Given the popularity of literary treasures as presents, it’s always intriguing to see what is most popular in the final weeks leading up to the big day itself. As people buy for family members they might know well or poorly, books can often be a safe gift. If the person likes the read, that’s a bonus. If not, a charity shop will always appreciate it.
With his quirky eccentrics and genius brain, Osman has become a recognisable figure both on television and on Twitter with his witty remarks
The title of bestseller has gone to Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, a mystery book about elderly detectives. The first ever debut novel to become Christmas number one, it sold 134, 514 copies in seven days according to The Guardian. In second place was Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land, which sold 66,531 copies in the week to 19th December. The last adult novel to feature as Christmas number one was Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol in 2009.
Osman’s success will have, in a large part, stemmed from being the co-presenter of Pointless on BBC One. With Alexander Armstrong, he is part of an iconic duo whose show has aired for over 1,000 episodes. With his quirky eccentrics and genius brain, Osman has become a recognisable figure both on television and on Twitter with his witty remarks. It is unsurprising then that his name recognition would have ensured a large number of purchases.
Osman’s success may have also stemmed from the specific genre of the book. I have not yet read it, so cannot judge it as a literary piece. However, that the bestseller was fiction may be a reflection of 2020. In a year so defined by factual information – largely negative – the need and importance of escapism has been vital. Fiction through Osman’s writing therefore might have provided a means for individuals to temporarily forget about the problems in the world elsewhere.
The presence of many familiar names on the top ten list – David Walliams, J.K. Rowling, David Attenborough – would suggest it is harder for new, unknown authors to break that glass ceiling of publishing recognition
However, the fact that Barack Obama was at number two demonstrates the hegemony and importance of discussing and reading about politics. Given the 2020 presidential election had just taken place, that was evidently a key thought within the minds of book purchasers, as Obama reflected on the last four years alongside his own administration.
Indeed, the presence of many familiar names on the top ten list – David Walliams, J.K. Rowling, David Attenborough – would suggest it is harder for new, unknown authors to break that glass ceiling of publishing recognition. Before the pandemic, becoming a new author was already hard enough. With publishing, the precarious nature of work alongside the economic insecurity of the pandemic would have made that even trickier.
Indeed, given the announced closure of bookshops under tier four, it is clear that bookshops which remain open will want to ensure they can achieve financial success. This will most likely be done by promoting and advertising books which are bound to get sales, simply because of who the author is. Once again, this means that up and coming writers suffer again only due to currently lacking name recognition.
It is always pleasing when book sales are high, not least at Christmas. This demonstrates that individuals want to share literary ideas and creations with others. The Bookseller magazine predicted that, had it not been for forced shop closures, trading could have reached £100 million. We can be hopeful that, with the vaccine’s arrival, a full return to shops, no masks or social distancing necessary, can soon be enjoyed. However, as a Waterstones spokesperson stated, the closure had a “significant impact on trade”. Bookshops and their bestsellers can only remain if people flock to them.