Super Thursday: are you fed up with celebrity autobiographies?

Jennifer Saunders, John Bishop and other big names bring customers to bookshops, but Foyles' Jonathan Ruppin says there are problems with celebrity bookselling

The publishing industry returns for second helpings at the Christmas banquet today, as this year's second Super Thursday (the first was at the end of September) is stuffed full with celebrity offerings. Out today are autobiographies from David Jason, Jennifer Saunders and John Bishop, Patsy Kensit, Danny Baker and Ronnie O'Sullivan, June Brown and Brendan O'Carroll – all set to jostle for space in festive bookshop displays with new cookery titles from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Lorraine Pascale and Gok Wan. And that's not to mention the return of Bridget Jones and the first in a series about the Wars of the Roses from Conn Iggulden.

This annual short-cut to the news pages is as welcome to the book trade as a controversial literary award; it will boost sales for the big names and bring customers into bookshops, where we can present them with thousands of unexpected discoveries.

But with television supercharging many Super Thursday releases, this jamboree of celebrity bookselling contributes to the perception that publishing is almost entirely driven by the pursuit of big personalities.

Newsworthiness is too often determined by the writer's back story, rather than by the book itself, and this isn't confined to the celebrity sector. When Stef Penney won the 2006 Costa Book of the Year for her thriller, The Tenderness of Wolves, much of the coverage was devoted to marvelling that an agoraphobic could write a book mostly set outdoors – forgetting that an imagination is very much part of the job description for a novelist.

The high-profile titles out on Super Thursday are also usually the ones the most heavily discounted. I've come across non-fiction hardbacks at £25 to £30 that I thought were overpriced, but £9.99 probably isn't reasonable, either – especially when bookstores sell them at a loss to get your custom. When all bestsellers – and these are now largely determined by retailers who are not principally booksellers – are sold at untenably low prices, it skews perceptions of what is a reasonable price to pay across the board.

Super Thursday isn't the book industry in microcosm, but it does reflect a dichotomy at play. In an ideal world, people involved in the creation and promulgation of art wouldn't be distracted by the need to make a living. The fact that we must do so has come to mask the fundamental reason why just about everyone in the book business, from writer to bookseller, has chosen to work in it: because we love books.

Bookselling is about more than just staffing the tills. Most readers are more curious, more intelligent and more willing to try something different than many in the industry think; and the online world lets readers communicate with us better than ever before. It's the books we read, the books we talk about, the books we actually pick up off the shelf and buy that shape the future for booksellers, publishers and writers alike.

Jonathan Ruppin is web editor for Foyles.

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Jonathan Ruppin

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