Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Celebrity memoirs lose star power at the tills

Celebrity memoirist Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) signing copies of I, Patridge: We Need to Talk About Alan. Photograph: Rune Hellestad/Corbis
Do the memoirs of a pretend celebrity, Alan Partridge, bring the curtain down on what was once a blockbuster genre?
The stars are out in the window of Foyles flagship store on London's Charing Cross Road, with Joanna Lumley and Alan Partridge twinkling beneath the ribbons and wrapping paper in the Christmas display. Among the festive paper chains within, meanwhile, Miranda Hart, James Corden and Jane Lynch grin on the Film and Drama shelves, while Dannii Minogue and Sue Johnston lurk at the bottom of Actor Biography. But despite the unmistakable signs of Santa's coming on the shop floor, in his office behind the scenes at Foyles, Jonathan Ruppin can see the writing on the wall for celebrity autobiography.
"Celebrity memoir is a fad which is fading fast," he says. "In terms of raw sales, they still make up a huge proportion of what's sold at Christmas, but the significant celebrity book this year isn't a conventional autobiography at all. It's the Alan Partridge, which spoofs the whole of celebrity culture."
The imagined life story of Steve Coogan's most popular comic character is an unlikely harbinger of doom, but with Christmas under a month away, celebrity memoirs are selling 60% less than in 2010, with sales since the end of September in the arts autobiography sector – the category tracked by Nielsen BookScan which corresponds most closely to the celebrity memoir genre – down £11m compared with a similar period last year. Booksellers talk bravely of a late Christmas, but these dizzying falls come after three years of steady decline, with arts autobiography losing £8.2m – or 16% – in 2010 from its peak of £51.5m in 2008 and biography and autobiography as a whole slumping by £30m between 2006 and 2010 – a 20% fall. The books trade as a whole has been buffeted by recession, but celebrity memoir has fallen faster than the rest, its market share slipping from 2.25% to 1.99% since 2008.
This rapid contraction brings to a close a bold chapter in publishing history: years of prodigious growth saw sales treble in arts autobiography between 2001 and 2008. But the story is older than that. For Weidenfeld and Nicholson's Alan Samson, who has published memoirs from stars such as Julie Walters, Helen Mirren and Keith Richards, the phenomenon goes back to the breathless reporting from the trials of Highwaymen in the 18th century.
"We've always had celebrity biography," he says, "but what we haven't had is this deluge". He traces the modern rise of the genre back to 1999 and Geri Halliwell's "extremely well put together" memoir, If Only, and reckons the boom was fuelled by the sheer number of celebrities created since the launch of Channel 4 in 1982 and the proliferation of media outlets that followed. "When I was a young editor starting out, there weren't 50 celebrities in the country," he says.
Full story at The Guardian.

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