Project Bestseller #1

What are people really reading in Spain? Last year, while I was researching an article on taste and the bestseller in the Galician publishing industry, I spent a lot of time digging around in the various reports about Spanish reading habits on the website of the Spanish Publishers’ Guild (Federación de Gremios de Editores de España, or FGEE). The ones that especially caught my eye were the ‘top tens’ – the top ten most bought and most read books and authors, which are often surprisingly different.* The first thing you notice about bestselling authors in Spain is how few of them are actually Spanish – in the 2008 report, the one I was using for my research, the split for ‘most read’ authors was  50:50 between Spanish-language authors, and authors translated from English, while for ‘most bought’ the ratio was 40:60 in favour of translations. Of course, I was especially interested in the Spanish authors who had made it into the top ten, and one in particular caught my eye: Matilde Asensi, whom I had never even heard of. One of my projects this summer has been to read at least one of Asensi’s novels, of which more in an upcoming post…

But back to the lists. Not all of the reports, which go back to 2000, include the top ten most read authors in Spain, but here is a cross-section of those that do:

2009 2008 2004 2001
  1. Stieg Larsson**
  2. Ken Follett**
  3. Stephenie Meyer**
  4. Carlos Ruiz Zafon**
  5. Dan Brown**
  6. Ildefonso Falcones**
  7. John Boyne**
  8. Katherine Neville
  9. JK Rowling
  10. Isabel Allende
  1. Ken Follett
  2. Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  3. Ildefonso Falcones
  4. John Boyne
  5. Dan Brown
  6. JK Rowling
  7. Noah Gordon
  8. Arturo Perez-Reverte
  9. Isabel Allende
  10. Matilde Asensi
  1. Dan Brown
  2. Ken Follett
  3. JRR Tolkien
  4. Isabel Allende
  5. Arturo Perez-Reverte
  6. Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  7. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  8. JK Rowling
  9. Matilde Asensi
  10. Paulo Coelho
  1. Arturo Perez-Reverte
  2. Ken Follett
  3. Isabel Allende
  4. Stephen King
  5. Antonio Gala
  6. Noah Gordon
  7. Frank McCourt
  8. JRR Tolkien
  9. Cervantes
  10. Alberto Vazquez Figueroa

HTML Tables

Obviously, these tables are just very broad-brush indicators of a whole slew of complex data, but they do suggest a number of tentative conclusions:

Firstly, that Spanish readers don’t distinguish between Spanish-language originals and translations when they’re choosing what to read. All four lists above are split 50:50 between Spanish-language originals and translations; the only entry not originally in Spanish or English is Paulo Coelho in 2004, who I assume was translated from Portuguese.

Secondly, that Spanish readers overwhelming choose contemporary authors, with only two exceptions in these lists: Cervantes, who makes his only appearance in 2001 (although he is in the top 20 in 2004), and Tolkien (2001, 2004), whose popularity was probably stimulated by the release of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) and the re-edition of the novels as film tie-ins.

Thirdly, that there are different kinds of presences in the lists: writers who appear once and then disappear, often on the strength of a single novel (e.g.. Vazquez Figueroa, Gala, Coelho, McCourt, Neville), and writers who appear multiple times either as the result of publishing a popular series (e.g. Rowling [warning: annoyingly overdesigned, some sound]), or several blockbusters (e.g. Falcones [warning – music!], Asensi, Allende, or Ruiz Zafon).

Fourthly, that the most read authors are all novelists. If instead we look at the most bought authors for a given year, the odd non-fiction entry does slip in, such as Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (no.10, 2008; no. 5, 2009). The ‘most bought’ top ten, perhaps logically, also tends to anticipate the ‘most read’ list: Larsson and Meyer both appear on the ‘most bought’ list in 2008, but don’t make the ‘most read’ list until the following year.

Fifthly, that there is a strong preference for historical, epic, mystical and cryptographical themes. In the 2009 survey, around 40% of both male and female readers said their favourite genre included historical fiction, and just under 30% each included ‘Intrigue / mystery’ and ‘Adventure’ novels in their favourite genres (slide 35).

Sixthly, that the most consistently popular author in Spain in the last decade is Ken Follett, and so evidently I am going to have to read The Pillars of the Earth.

*No direct link to the reports, because they are stored on huge, graphic-stuffed PowerPoint files, but you can access them from the FGEE list of reports.

** The 2009 list includes multiple entries for these authors within the top 20, so I’ve removed double entries and bumped Neville, Rowling and Allende up into the top ten.


  1. Stuart Davis · · Reply

    This is really interesting! Especially the presence of Cervantes in 2001, which (if it’s Don Quijote which sold well), probably re-phrases the question “what are people really reading in Spain?” to “what are people buying in Spain?”… the compulsion to buy a (canonical) text doesn’t equate to reading it!
    And I had heard of Matilde Asensi, but only because of a dictionary of contemporary literature that I reviewed! Let us know what she’s like…

  2. Stuart, that’s the thing – this is the most read list, so people are either reading Cervantes – actually DQ – or at least claiming to read him! Cervantes doesn’t appear in the ‘most bought’ list for that year, so either people were getting him from the library, or they were (re)reading a copy they already had… hmm …

    And yes, I’m fascinated by the differences between the two lists – it’s so telling to see what people are buying but not reading! The Secret was the 4th most bought book in 2009, but only the 18th most read…

  3. Stuart Davis · · Reply

    Oh yes…good point! 🙂 Are they the same people telling us what they bought and read? Or are we getting samples of different demographics, I wonder?

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  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about barcelona.


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