2001: A Bookcase Odyssey. A look back at the bestsellers 20 years ago

Question: how many writers within the list of the top 50 bestselling books of 2021 thus far also appear in the 2001 end-of-year top 50 chart?

One? Ten? The answer is somewhere in between, at four: J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, Marian Keyes and, perhaps surprisingly given he’s only penned three full-length novels between 2001 and 2021, Kazuo Ishiguro.

Were these answers more or less than you were expecting?

When looking back at the bestsellers of 20 years ago, it is interesting to reflect on just how much times have changed, but also in the many ways they haven’t.

Memoirs by famous singers can be found in both charts (in 2001, Robbie Williams and Victoria Beckham; in 2021, Dave Grohl), as can books about Billy Connolly (written by his wife, Pamela Stephenson, in 2001 and by himself in 2021). Harry Potter features (eight in 2001, one in 2021), along with award-winning historical fiction (‘English Passengers’ in 2001, ‘Hamnet’ in 2021), slimming titles (‘Dr Atkins’ in 2001, ‘The Fast 800 Easy’ in 2021) and cookbooks by celebrity chefs (Jamie, Nigella and Delia in 2001, and a new kind of celebrity – hello social media – in 2021: Pinch of Nom and Jane Dunn).

But there are significant differences, too, one of the most notable being how few crime novels appear in the 2001 chart (two) compared to 2021 (13). We’re not quite at the end of 2021 yet and some may well fall out of the top 50 by year-end, ousted by the odd children’s annual or two, or a celebrity-penned hardback. But perhaps the major reason is the relatively small footprint mass-market paperback-heavy supermarkets had in the UK book market in 2001 compared to 2021.

Supermarkets are no doubt a factor behind another intriguing difference between the two charts. The median price paid for a top 50 paperback fiction bestseller in 2001 was £5.70, approximately 20p MORE than the median paid for a top 50 paperback fiction bestseller in 2021. Quite remarkable given the Bank of England’s inflation calculator suggests a £5.50 paperback in 2001 is equivalent to £9.30 today. In real terms, books have never been cheaper than they are now.

Helen Fielding, Joanne Harris, Dave Pelzer and Delia Smith all appear at least twice in the 2001 chart, but not at all in the 2021 top 50. Ali G’s ‘Da Gospel According to Ali G’, meanwhile, ended 2001 as the 36th bestselling book of the year, but it hasn’t sold a copy in the UK through BookScan’s Total Consumer Market since April 2009. It’s a similar story for 40th bestselling book of 2001, ‘Wan2tlk?’ – a £1.99 text-messaging dictionary that claimed to “guarantee the reader pick-up lines, witty replies, short sharp rows, faultless plans and scorching romantic exchanges”. It last sold a copy in 2012, presumably 2 sum1 w/ a Nokia 3310, lol.

And what of the 2001 bestsellers that are still selling 20 years later? Of the 44 different books in the top 50 bestsellers of 2001, 13 have sold more than 1,000 copies in 2021 and six (all of them by J.K. Rowling) have sold more than 10,000 copies:

In the 20th anniversary year of the release of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ in cinemas, the book has enjoyed another year of more than 100,000 sales in 2021 – its 14th year of 100,000+ sales since the turn of the millennium.

(2020 and 2021 figures do not include data from lockdown periods)

Top 50 Bestsellers of 2001

  1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)
  3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)
  5. A Child Called It (Dave Pelzer)
  6. Bridget Jones’s Diary (film tie-in) (Helen Fielding)
  7. Happy Days with the Naked Chef (Jamie Oliver)
  8. White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
  9. Man and Boy (Tony Parsons)
  10. Comic Relief: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (J.K. Rowling)
  11. The Brethren (John Grisham)
  12. Comic Relief: Quidditch Through the Ages (J.K. Rowling)
  13. Marrying The Mistress (Joanna Trollope)
  14. Billy Connolly (Pamela Stephenson)
  15. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Helen Fielding)
  16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001 edition) (J.K. Rowling)
  17. Scarlet Feather (Maeve Binchy)
  18. McCarthy’s Bar (Pete McCarthy)
  19. Guinness World Records: 2002
  20. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernieres)
  21. Chocolat (Joanne Harris)
  22. Blackberry Wine (Joanne Harris)
  23. Down Under (Bill Bryson)
  24. Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (Robert C. Atkins)
  25. Somebody Someday (Robbie Williams)
  26. Chocolat (film tie-in) (Joanne Harris)
  27. The Last Precinct (Patricia Cornwell)
  28. Sushi for Beginners (Marian Keyes)
  29. The Highway Code (2001 edition)
  30. Bad Blood (Lorna Sage)
  31. Delia’s Chocolate Collection (Delia Smith)
  32. Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)
  33. Delia’s How To Cook: Book Three (Delia Smith)
  34. Nigella Bites (Nigella Lawson)
  35. The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)
  36. Da Gospel According to Ali G (Ali G)
  37. When We Were Orphans (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  38. Learning to Fly (Victoria Beckham)
  39. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (hardback edition) (J.K. Rowling)
  40. Wan2tlk?: Ltle Bk of Txt Msgs
  41. Winter Solstice (Rosamunde Pilcher)
  42. The Highway Code (1999 edition)
  43. The “Beano” Book 2002
  44. The Lost Boy (Dave Pelzer)
  45. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernieres)
  46. English Passengers (Matthew Kneale)
  47. The Bear and the Dragon (Tom Clancy)
  48. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien)
  49. The Return of the Naked Chef (Jamie Oliver)
  50. The Wedding (Danielle Steel)

Data extracted from the BookScan Total Consumer Market. For more information, please contact