Saturday, 22 December 2012

Poetry sales

Poets can be a little shy about their sales. Some research and an online discussion I was involved with revealed that

  • According to Nielsen Bookscan, not one of the shortlisted collections in the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry had sold more than 1000 copies by 2008. The winner ("The Drowned Book" by Sean O'Brien) sold 785. "Hawks to Doves" by Alan Gillis had sold 39 copies.
  • Toyo Shibata was 92 when she started writing poetry; her first self-published collection of 42 poems has sold 1.5 million copies in Japan since its publication in 2009.
  • James Joyce bought most of his first poetry book's first print-run
  • Michael Juster's Wilbur Award winner, "The Secret Language of Women", has sold 400 copies in a decade - slightly above average for the series.
  • Fitzgerald himself paid to have 250 copies of the Rubaiyat translation printed, intending to sell each for 5 shillings. Something like a total of six copies were sold. After a couple years, the bookseller put it on the remainder table. Asking price: one penny. It just sat there. If Swinburne hadn't happened to pop in and rifle through the bargain books, we wouldn't even know the text existed. But he talked it up to Rossetti, who talked it up to his sister, who talked it up to...
  • Jorge Luis Borges used to carry round copies of his book of poems and stuff them in the overcoats of men who were having a shave or a haircut.
  • Ann Drysdale wrote "I sell at readings, ... but I have to get the things there and as I have no car and use public transport I have to stash 'em in a shopping trolley and arrive at the venue like a bag-woman. And, yes, I have on occasion been challenged at the door and once (Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea) been refused admission to my own reading since I was clearly an undesirable, trying to sneak in free for the open mic."
  • In the Mapping contemporary poetry report, these were the top 10 (in terms of value) all-time UK poetry titles (Non-contemporary poetry excluded)
    Title and authorCopies sold
    1 Staying Alive (Astley (ed)) 90999
    2 The World's Wife (Duffy) 67590
    3 Collected Poems (Larkin)40696
    4 Beowulf:A New Translation 51694
    5 The Whitsun Weddings (Larkin) 42579
    6 Being Alive (Astley (ed)) 27292
    7 Birthday Letters (Hughes) 31227
    8 If I Don't Know (Cope) 30776
    9 New Selected Poems, 1966-87 (Heaney) 22775
    10 Collected Poems (Plath)16054
    Eliot, Duffy, Armitage, Cope, Hughes and Larkin dominate the top 50 (only Paul McCartney, Plath and Astley get a look in). After the top 50, sales are in four figures - e.g. Don Paterson's "Landing Light" (67th in the charts) sold 4258 copies.
  • "Official figures from Nielsen BookScan show a sharp decline in the overall poetry market in the last year. There was growth of around 13% in 2009, when the market was worth £8.4m, followed by small declines in 2010 and 2011, and then a major drop of 18.5% volume and 15.9% value in 2012, when the overall value of the market fell to £6.7m." (Guardian 2013)
  • "Over the past two years, according to BookScan, the three bestselling poetry titles have all been by Duffy – The Christmas Truce (38,181 copies sold), The Bees (29,716) and The World's Wife (19,933). The rest of the top 10 is made up of three anthologies, The Odyssey, the Pam Ayres Classic Collection – and two more Duffy collections. The collected Philip Larkin comes in 13th place (10,152), behind more anthologies, and Seamus Heaney's Burial at Thebes in 14th (9,253). Even a prize-winning poet such as Sharon Olds has sold only 7,399 copies of her collection Stag's Leap, while John Burnside's Black Cat Bone sold 5,544 copies." (Guardian 2013)

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