Autobiographies of the rich and famous

Tony Blair's memoirs has become the fastest selling autobiography in Britain. But what titles does the former prime minister have to beat if he is to become a bestseller?

Two days after its release Tony Blair's book, A Journey, is rewriting the rules of British political memoirs - traditionally a minor genre in the overall autobiography market.

As the chart above shows, British book buyers are far more likely to consume an autobiography by a celebrity than a politician.

That said, US president Barack Obama has already shown that a stirring personal story by a politician can rival the reminiscences of a big name British entertainer.

According to Philip Stone, charts editor at Bookseller, the reason is simple: "The public want to read the stories behind the people they see on television or read about in the paper."

However, Mr Blair does seem to be entering a market which is experiencing a severe slump. As the graph above shows, the autobiography market fell into sharp decline in 2009 after some big-selling titles boosted the market in recent years.

"The number of memoirs out in the market was relatively flat year-on-year, its just that they weren't selling in as big a numbers as in previous years," says Stone.

"There were two reasons for this, first, the fiction market was incredibly strong last year, we had a new Dan Brown, as well as new works by Terry Pratchett and Martina Cole which probably stole some sales from non-fiction. Second, the calibre of celebrity memoirs last year were not as high as in 2008 when Julie Walters, Michael Parkinson, Dawn French and Paul O'Grady all published their autobiographies."

Although all areas of the autobiography market seem to have been suffering, "misery memoirs" - a genre epitomised by the Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and known in the trade as "general autobiography" - seem to have taken a significant hit, losing the popularity they enjoyed between 2005 and 2007.

Nonetheless according to Stone it's important to remember that "for every Katie Price, whose book sales are phenomenal, there are other celebrities who don't perform as well".

"Sometimes publishers can get it wrong, and sometimes the celebrities themselves can get it wrong. Just ask Jonathan Ross. Sales of his memoir fell by almost 50% week-on-week after the 'Sachsgate' scandal."

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