Mathematical Mondays: The Effect of Blockbusters on Book Sales

…Exploring dubious theories by using real numbers to prove intangible arguments

Today’s suspicious sum is for anyone currently fretting about whether the publication of their book might get eaten up, run over and spat on by the unfortunately simultaneous release of the blockbuster of the century.

How Does A Runaway Blockbuster Affect Other Book Sales?

Sales Formula


Sn = Normal/Achieveable Sales

Or, the number of book sales up for grabs by mere mortals in the normal scheme of things.

50Q =  50 Shades Quotient

Books bought by people who never otherwise buy books. Not being snobby here, just acknowledging a variable. This also covers one-off novelty books such as Souvenir Royal Wedding Albums. Etc.

And What In The Name of Blazes Is That 75% All About?

I’m subtracting 25% of total annual sales for a further portion of sales every year which is reserved for blockbusters only. This includes…

  • sales attributable solely to major movies or TV productions
  • sales spikes for bestselling authors who haven’t published in a while (e.g. Dan Brown’s Inferno or J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy)
  • autobiographies of ridiculously famous (or just ridiculous) people

Books that sold lots

So, Could I Get To The Point, Please?

Based on UK print book sales figures from Nielsen Ratings, we know that the Top 100 books amounted to 29.5 million unit sales in 2012, and only 19.8 million in 2011. That’s a whopping 9.7 million more units selling in the Top 100 alone in the UK in 2012 over 2011.

Guess how many units of the 50 Shades trilogy sold in 2012? 10.5 million, not even counting digital sales. Yup, you heard it. Pretty much all of the pick-up in that year’s sales.

Incidentally, in 2011, Jessica Fellowes’ The World of Downton Abbey grossed a sweet £1.2 million odd for over 141,000 sales, and in hardback too, mind. Fancy!

But it’s unlikely that anyone who bought either of those were in the market for a cerebral crime thriller or a YA paranormal romance for dessert.

I think we can safely say that their sales will never be yours. There are in a market all their own, possibly not even competing with each other.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that we should remember we are only targeting the sales that are the equivalent of the swing voter: open to trying something new based on decent reviews, the subject matter and perhaps a pretty cover.

A portion of sales will always be reserved for certain blockbusters. Don’t mind them. The’re so commercial. 😉

  8 comments for “Mathematical Mondays: The Effect of Blockbusters on Book Sales

  1. October 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I wish maths had been this interesting in school!


  2. johanna buchanan
    October 15, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    I like these sums – all about millions of books selling and millions of pound earned and millions of readers reading…..
    I don’t like the other sums about millions of writers writing and earning barely enough to buy a bag of lentils for their dinner. I just over my eyes and sing a song when I see those.


    • October 15, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      Don’t mind the negative numbers, Johanna. They’ll be too far back in your rearview mirror by the time your stratospheric blockbuster hits the shelves!!


      • johanna buchanan
        October 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm



  3. October 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Do the people who buy books such as The World of Downton Abbey usually buy books or are they impulse buys because they like the TV series, or perhaps even bought as presents? I did find the large number of complaints over the recent rape scene (nothing even discretely shown — just the run up and the aftermath) rather intriguing. Much more explicit stuff if shown most evening on most channels, so where did these people and their complaints come from?


    • October 15, 2013 at 7:14 pm

      I don’t think they’re a target market for new writers, anyway. Did the outcry after the rape scene come from sheer shock? Because it seemed like a genre hop? My problems with Downton run deeper. I think it’s become ridiculous, introducing new story lines and characters for 5 minutes before wrapping them up. There’s no tension and it feels amateur.


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