Two female newcomers dominated the all-year bestsellers list at this point last year. EL James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) – who had both produced trilogies – took up most of the top 10 slots between them. In 2013, the picture – in a list that collates only printed book sales, not ebooks – is at once more blokeish and more familiar: the shock of the new has given way to the comfort of the old, or at any rate the recognisable. Things also look a bit less American. With Alex Ferguson taking his customary place at the top of the league, the places immediately below are full of people and publications that play to British nostalgia, from annual fixtures such as Guinness World Records (6) and Jamie Oliver (16) to writers making a welcome comeback, such as Helen Fielding (18) and Sue Townsend (29).
Ferguson and David Jason (10) have been making weekly appearances on TV screens since at least the 80s, the era that was also Morrissey's (47) heyday and saw the emergence of Dawn French (19) and Townsend. Oliver, Fielding and JK Rowling (11) first made their mark in the 90s. Even David Walliams (7, 13 and others) has now been around for a decade.
A year on, James's erotica is a mere spectral presence, and the nine-month-wonder of 2012's porn craze is represented only by her boldest imitator, Sylvia Day (12, 76). With kinky sex gone as suddenly as it arrived, the usual genres – cookery, confessions, kids and crime – are back at the top.
But the kind of bestselling titles representing each of them reflect fascinating changes. Take cookbooks, or rather food writing. High chart places usually occupied by titles urging us to try new recipes have been seized instead by three guides to the rules of a different kind of hunger games – Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer's TV spin-off The Fast Diet (4) and two Hairy Biker diet books (8, 26). Oliver also switched to urging austerity, though via reduced spending rather than calories, in Save with Jamie.
Lower down is more conventional grub-loving fare from the likes of Paul Hollywood (48) and Nigel Slater (51), but it's the names that are missing that are perhaps most significant here. With no sign of Nigella (who had other things to preoccupy her), Lorraine Pascale, Mary Berry and others, not one female TV cook has a book in the top 100. This year's newcomers, Hollywood and Tom Kerridge (57), are very blokey.
A similar case of the disappearing women is apparent in the memoir category, leaving Miranda Hart (49) marooned at a stag party. Only Ferguson, Jason, Morrissey and a second colourful football manager, Harry Redknapp (31), all bar one over 65, produced hit autobiographies; those by the latest batch of younger celebrities all failed.
These duds could serve to put a long-overdue stop to publishers' annual chequebook-waving pursuit of comedians, TV presenters and in-vogue actors in the hope of replicating the stonking sales Peter Kay achieved in the mid-noughties. Ferguson and Jason's success suggests they were looking in the wrong place, for the wrong kind of book; and we might well see a swing back to old-fashioned, non-jokey memoirs, written or dictated in semi-retirement.
Another cycle may also be coming to an end in fiction for children and young adults, which takes up a quarter of the chart. And the gone girls phenomenon is noticeable here too, although it's more a case of thinning out than of vanishing. Musty paperbacks of Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, originally from 2008-10, still hang on thanks to the movie adaptations (61, 68, 72); but they're well behind the bulk of the entries from Jeff Kinney and Walliams, who have five top 100 titles apiece.
Kinney's eighth Wimpy Kid tale, published in early November, easily overtook books on sale for much longer, soaring to No 5 in the chart after the Kid had surreally battled Alex Ferguson for top spot in the weekly bestseller lists. What links Kinney's fiction and Walliams's – and John Green's controversial "sick lit" novel, The Fault in Our Stars (17) – is that their teen and tween protagonists inhabit realistic, ordinary, contemporary worlds, in marked contrast to the fantasy or dystopian novels of Collins, Rowling and Stephenie (Twilight) Meyer that have dominated children's/YA writing and the top slots in bestseller lists alike for the past 15 years.
Realism also lorded it over fantasy in adult fiction, though here women fared better. Two thrillers came close to taking the No 1 spot, but ultimately even Dan Brown's indomitable hero Robert Langdon proved no match for Fergie. That Inferno (2) was the year's bestselling novel was predictable, but the stamina of Gillian Flynn's third book (3) – the only top-five title not first published in 2013 – took many by surprise. A word-of-mouth hit last year, this time it faced challenges from faux-Flynn offerings imitating its plot, title or cover; nevertheless it ruled the beaches for a second summer, as it turned out the "new Gone Girl" was Gone Girl.
Literary fiction secured creditably high places via paperbacks of Rachel Joyce's Booker-longlisted The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (9) and Rowling's adult debut, The Casual Vacancy. Hilary Mantel (32, 77), Mark Haddon (41) and Ian McEwan (71) also held in.
Even if you add a large group of writers on the literary/popular cusp, from Fielding and Townsend to Terry Pratchett (54) and George RR Martin (22, 69), this is not a very convincing showing. Yet compared to the equivalent sub-sector in factual writing, lit fic is flourishing. Serious non-fiction may be in rude health, judging by the Samuel Johnson prize longlist and writers' recent book of the year choices; but on the evidence of this list – in which it is only represented by Daniel Kahneman (84), and perhaps Morrissey – it is collapsing as a commercial proposition.
In publishing, 2013's key event was the marriage of Random House and Penguin, and the bestsellers list shows this power couple tightening their grip on the market. Last year, when they were engaged but still separate entities, they had 42 titles listed between them, roughly in line with projected overall market share. With the joint account duly opened, the 2013 figure is 45. The other publishers, which along with Random House and Penguin had previously formed the Big Four, had their successes (Hachette publishes Ferguson and Flynn, while HarperCollins has Walliams and Mantel as standard-bearers) but made no inroads on the mega-conglomerate's dominance.
Smaller, independent houses meanwhile largely struggled, with top indies such as Bloomsbury, Canongate, Faber and Profile either managing only single entries or no-scoring. Others, however, showed that the sector has not lost its ability to move faster than the lumbering conglomerates and to snap up authors or ideas they overlook.
So we saw a commercial coup for Short Books with The Fast Diet, and kudos for Granta, publisher of Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton and Women's fiction prize winner AM Homes. The most striking display of indy flair, though, is the performance of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of a Window and Disappeared (20). Bigger publishers were sniffy about a translated Swedish novel that wasn't crime, by an unknown author with an overlong title; but Hesperus turned it into a sleeper hit that has so far earned almost £1.5m. It even beat the One Direction annual.
- ^ EL James (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Fifty Shades of Grey (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Suzanne Collins (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ The Hunger Games (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Alex Ferguson (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Jamie Oliver (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Helen Fielding (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Sue Townsend (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ David Jason (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Morrissey (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Dawn French (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ JK Rowling (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ David Walliams (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Sylvia Day (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ The Fast Diet (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Hairy Biker (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Save with Jamie (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Paul Hollywood (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Nigel Slater (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Nigella (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Lorraine Pascale (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Mary Berry (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Tom Kerridge (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Miranda Hart (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Harry Redknapp (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ More from the Guardian on Fiction (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Jeff Kinney (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Wimpy Kid (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ John Green' (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ The Fault in Our Stars (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Stephenie (Twilight) Meyer (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Dan Brown (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Inferno (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Gillian Flynn (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Gone Girl (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Rachel Joyce (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ The Casual Vacancy (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)
- ^ Hilary Mantel (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Mark Haddon (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Ian McEwan (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Terry Pratchett (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ George RR Martin (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Samuel Johnson prize (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Daniel Kahneman (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ More from the Guardian on Publishing (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Random House (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Penguin (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Eleanor Catton (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ AM Homes (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of a Window and Disappeared (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)