A Christmas bestseller retrospective

Earlier this year we explored the bestselling books since BookScan began in the UK, which you can read about in this post, but now let’s put a Christmas-y spin on BookScan history and dig into past bestsellers for the final month of the year. For the last two years, Kay & Kate Allinson have earned the number one spot in December, with Pinch of Nom Comfort Food in 2021 and Pinch of Nom Enjoy in 2022. The two titles follow a long line of cookbooks that have led the way for December shopping in the UK: ten of the last 25 years have featured a cookbook as the overall bestseller for the final period of the year. In fact, it’s a trend as old as BookScan itself, with Delia’s How to Cook: Book One and Book Two by Delia Smith topping the chart in December 1998 and 1999 respectively. Jamie Oliver nabbed his first holiday season number one in 2001 with Happy Days with the Naked Chef and his most recent in 2017 with 5 Ingredients, giving him a record six. The only repeat victor outside of cookery has been Guinness World Records, taking the number one spot in December 2000, 2009, 2014 and 2015.

But there are other repeat categories – behind cookery’s ten years, autobiography categories have claimed four, the last time in 2018 with Becoming by Michelle Obama. Fiction has managed to crack the non-fiction dominance a few times, back in 2002 and 2004 and making a return in 2020 with The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, while children’s fiction rose to the top in 2008 with Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (the highest selling title in December on record) and then again in 2019 with The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams.

And that leaves two! Our final entries are certainly more anomalous in comparing to the other years, but we always appreciate a surprise bestseller in the lead up to Christmas. Back in 2003, book buyers were very concerned with punctuation, whether their own or that of their loved ones, as Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves was the most popular book in the final weeks of the year. Jump ahead to 2016 and we have the only humour title to take the December crown, with Five on Brexit Island by Bruno Vincent finding a significant audience.

Even as there’s only been one book from the humour shelves at the top of the December chart, it’s one of the areas of the market that’s most reliant on the gifting season. Typically more than a third of sales for humour, trivia & puzzles categories happen in the final four weeks of the year, increasing to more than half if we extend to eight weeks (compared to about a quarter of the book market overall). The Private Eye Annual has been the bestselling humour book in December for the last four years, but in 2017 and 2018 puzzle books came out on top within the ‘gifting’ categories, with Bletchley Park Brainteasers and The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book. For 2023 it’s looking like we’ll be back to trying to stump our friends and family (and enemies?) rather than make them laugh, as Murdle by G.T. Karber is proving a favourite in the run up to Christmas.

The puzzle hit is up against both familiar and new names in the December book charts so far, with even just the top ten from the start of the month featuring incredible variety, shown below. So will it be Murdle or Murder Club, politics or laughs, fantasy or memoir for Christmas this year?

Based on data from the BookScan UK Total Consumer Market (TCM), to 9 December 2023. For more information, please contact