A happy ending for celebrity memoirs

Nobody ever got rich by over estimating the intelligence of the public, working as a jobbing ghost writer, or trying to predict next year's celebrity bestseller, so they say. Now, one publisher appears to have all but given up on celebrity memoirs, announcing that "we're moving away from big celebrity hit-and-miss stuff". About time.

Charlie Redmayne is the UK chief executive of Harper Collins, and he made his announcement in the wake of disappointing revenues. "I felt the company had embraced some quite risky celebrity non-fiction," he said. "A lot of these books were hugely expensive and they were not necessarily going to back-list well". Never mind "back-listing" well – or providing a long tail of sales – some of this year's titles barely front-listed. According to The Bookseller and Nielsen Bookscan, which counts sales, this year's biography and memoir market was down four per cent on 2013. And 2013 would have been a lot worse had it not been for the huge success of Alex Ferguson's My Autobiography, which surprised even experts.

A literary editor can often tell when a publisher has bet the farm on a well-known author only to find that he or she can't write for toffee, because it refuses to let reviewers get their hands on the book until after the paying public have all stumped up £20 per copy. When a publisher embargos a title until the day it arrives in shops, sometimes that's because they secretly know that it stinks.

Harper Collins at last appears to be stepping away from the table. We hope other publishers will follow suit and get back to the business of publishing really good books.


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