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Which biographies and autobiographies have sold the most since 2001? Which have sold the fastest?
They may now be the least popular type of book, but as recently as 2005, sales of autobiographies were not doing so badly. Last year, autobiographies made up just 0.58% of all book sales, while 'romance and sagas', accounted for 11.26%, due partly to the huge success of EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey.
Nielsen BookScan collected the data directly from over 35,500 bookshops' point of sale systems on a weekly basis. That does mean however that sales of e-books are not included in the data, and second-hand book sales are likely to be under-estimated.
The best-selling autobiography since 2001 is 'A Child Called It' by Dave Pelzer, shifting over a million copies and generating over £5.5 million in revenue. Peter Kay's autobiography 'The Sound of Laughter' tops the chart in terms of revenue at £9.3 million. Comedians figure prominently on the list with Paul O'Grady, Dawn French, Russell Brand, Michael McIntyre and Frank Skinner all making it to the top 50.
When the publication date is taken into account, the list looks very different. Steve Jobs biography, though the most expensive on the list at RRP £25, sold on average 535 copies a day since it was published in October 2011, making it the fastest selling book on the biography list. That still appears a weak performance when compared to Cheryl Cole's autobiography 'Cheryl: My Story' which has sold on average 2,308 copies a day since it was released in October last year.
Each of the titles in the top biographies since 2001 sold on average 223,000 copies. For the authors in the top 50 autobiographies, the average number of copies sold was 410,000. The average RRP of the best-selling biographies was £11.01, and £13.61 for a top 50 autobiography though the average selling price for both was consistently lower than the RRP.
Though arts autobiographies have fallen from selling 2.1 million in 2005 to just 649,000 in 2012, this remains the most popular subject. Sales of historical, political and military autobiographies have also fallen considerably during this time.
Autobiographies from royalty, which had been on a downward trend since 2003, almost doubled between 2008 and 2009. Biographies written by religious and spiritual figures about their own lives continue to be the weakest category, representing just 1% of all sales.
• 'Dreams from My Father:A Story of Race and Inheritance' by President Barack Obama is number 4 on the bestseller list, selling 784,000 copies.
• At £25 and the most expensive autobiography on the list, Tony Blair's 'A Journey' ranks 42nd.
• In 11th place in the biography chart, it's not possible to say how many of the 332,000 sales of "Feel:Robbie Williams" were due to excited fans misreading the title.
A New York Times bestseller: A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst
J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state.
J. B. West (1912–1983), chief usher of the White House—or executive director of the executive mansion and grounds—was once called “the most powerful man in Washington next to the president.” Discreet and witty, he supervised the large permanent staff that provided for every personal want and need for six presidents and first ladies, including at state dinners, weddings, and funerals, redecorating the facilities for each family and tending to every special request. He served first as assistant to the chief usher and then as chief usher after retiring as a high-level civilian officer of the US Navy. A native Iowan, his White House tenure (1941–1969) followed a career in the Veterans Administration. Upstairs at the White House was published in 1973 and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for months, with more than five hundred extraordinarily positive reviews, editions in seven languages, and more than two million copies sold in the US across hardcover and paperback formats.
Mary Lynn Kotz, the author of four books, is a freelance magazine journalist based in Washington, DC. A contributing editor of ARTnews, she has written many cover stories, including “A Day with Georgia O’Keeffe.” Her book Rauschenberg: Art and Life is the biography of the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), about whom she has given illustrated lectures at more than seventy museums and festivals, including at the 2009 Venice Biennale.