The lifetime of BookScan, international edition

In a post last year, I covered the lifetime bestsellers for the UK, which is the oldest of the BookScan territories, with data back to 1998. Over the years, we’ve expanded our coverage to 11 other countries, most recently Colombia, launched in 2023. The individual market charts always show an interesting mix of global hits and more local bestsellers, and extending that to the lifetime charts for each country paints a fascinating picture of the favourites in the BookScan era.

The varying start years inevitably lead to some of the differences in lifetime bestsellers according to BookScan, although as many of the top titles show, it’s not always about longevity. Two of Ireland’s top five, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy were only published five years ago, and Australia’s number one book The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape came out in 2016 and overtook Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James as of 2020. And Fifty Shades itself took less than a year to become the UK’s lifetime bestseller and more than ten years on has yet to be dethroned, which you can see visualised here.

Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t lead any other market but does also appear within the top five in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, along with sequel Fifty Shades Darker in the UK and Australia and the trilogy’s conclusion Fifty Shades Freed in the UK. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown marks another similarity across the UK, Australia and, where it tops the chart, Ireland, while the world’s most famous boy wizard appears in two charts, although with different titles: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling is the bestselling individual edition in the UK and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in Australia.

Ireland and New Zealand each have a book in common with Spain, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne for the former and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson for the latter, with sequel The Girl Who Played with Fire also among Spain’s lifetime bestsellers. Newer self-help books tie together several markets: Atomic Habits by James Clear appears four times, three of which are the newest BookScan-tracked countries, pointing to the relatively recent success the book has had. But it’s also made it to fourth in India, selling enough in the last few years to overtake a decade’s worth of bestsellers, although not yet reaching the top, held by Ikigai by Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles, published in 2017. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson leads a self-help heavy chart in Brazil and claims a spot in South Africa and Mexico, while The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel makes the top five in South Africa and Colombia.

The UK top five is the only one not to feature any non-fiction books, while both Brazil and Mexico are entirely non-fiction. Others that stand out include New Zealand and South Africa with cookbooks among their bestsellers, and New Zealand also with the only picture book, as The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith & Katz Cowley ranks second there to Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook. Italy doesn’t overlap with anywhere else, although the country’s bestseller My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante certainly achieved international success. A few of the unique number ones across the below table we can point to local connections, with Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Poland all led by authors from those countries, but interestingly Spain has only one Spanish author in the mix, Maria Duenas with El tiempo entre costuras (The Time in Between), while the overall bestseller is John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Similarly, the top book by an Indian author sits at third for that market, Half Girlfriend by Chetan Bhagat, bookended on either side by imported names. South Africa sets itself apart with its cookbook but also in fiction, with two Mills & Boon novels as the overall lifetime bestsellers (excluding manuals and dictionaries).

Of the books listed above, the top fives in the UK and Spain have all sold at least a million copies, along with the top two in Australia and Brazil and the number one book in Italy. And that last point is perhaps most impressive of all: we have Italian data going back six years longer, and the Italian market in general is nearly twice the size of Brazil’s book market, and yet both of Brazil’s top two books have reached higher numbers than Italy’s number one book. In other words, they have been very very popular there.

Of course, the top fives are only a tiny fraction of the books that have sold over the years. Across these 12 countries, we’ve tracked over 10 billion print book purchases, and the books featured above add up to not even 0.5% of that total. I wonder what the next 10 billion will bring!

Based on data collected from BookScan retailer panels in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Poland and Colombia, to May 2024. For more information, please contact