Top Selling BooksIt's really interesting that for pretty much any industry, you can get verified sales figures. In the music industry, every single CD sold is tracked by its bar code. They can generate a report, every week, of exactly which CDs sold the best. But in the book industry, it is NOT tracked! The only thing you can really go by is by the publisher's claims, which as you might guess is not exactly reliable. Still, you can get a general idea of which books sell over 10 million copies, and which do not. Most people consider the 10 million club to be the qualifying line of a "top selling book of all time". In comparisons, most best sellers, for example "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold, sell about 1 million.
The top selling book is easily the Bible. Over the years, with all the versions, it has sold BILLIONS of copies. Other than that, books were a luxury item for most people until the 1900s began. Having a "library" was a sign of great wealth. For that reason, most top selling books were put out in the 20th century, because it's at this point that paperback books, and their relatively inexpensive price, meant that the average person could now easily afford a book or two.
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Top Selling Fiction Book
Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein, sold 32 million copies between 1965 and 2001. That is when, of course, The Movie came out. In the next two years, another 14 million copies of the book were sold. So that's 46 million copies, not counting the other books in the series or sales since then. I personally *love* this series and grew up adoring Aragorn as my role model.
Fiction Books Selling 10 Million or More Copies
#1: Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (1936) ~28 million
#2: Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (2002) ~25 million
#3: Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann (1966) ~20 million
Isn't it interesting that two of the top 3 were written by women? Note that I realize many people say Valley of the Dolls was the top selling book, but I can't find anywhere that claims it sold more than 20 million copies as of 2005. I find many sources that say Gone with the Wind sold 28 million as of 2005. Figures for Da Vinci Code vary from source to source, but they seem to be about 25 million.
I don't know the actual sales figures for the remaining books, so I'll just show them in alphabetical order. They did all sell over 10 million copies.
Animal Farm - George Orwell (1945)
The Bridges of Madison County - Robert James Waller (1992)
The Carpetbaggers - Harold Robbins (1961)
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller (1961)
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (1951)
The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield (1993)
The Exorcist - William Blatty (1971)
The Godfather - Mario Puzo (1969)
God's Little Acre - Erskine Caldwell (1933)
Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
Jaws - Peter Benchley (1974)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach (1970)
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1960)
1984 - George Orwell (1949)
Peyton Place - Grace Metalious (1956)
Shogun - James Clavell (1975)
The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough (1977)
What disappoints me is that most of these books are simply about sex, drugs and violence. Don't we want to read stories that are encouraging? :) I suppose Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Celestine Prophecy are the exceptions.
For the best selling author, guesses are that it is Agatha Christie, who has sold about 2 billion copies of all of her various stories. Compare this with J.K. Rowling, who by 2006 had sold 300 million copies of the Harry Potter series books.
Speaking of children's books, there are only two children's book to cross 10 million copies. One is "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943) which was based on his actual plane crash in the desert. This sold reputedly 50 million copies in various languages. Second is "The Poky Little Puppy" by Janette Sebring Lowrey (1942) at almost 15 million copies.
It seems incredibly hard to get straight "total sales" per book on the Harry Potter series. Figures vary wildly from source to source. The most reliable I found said that each book sold more than its predecessor and that book #5 sold 8.8 million total. So that seems to say that none sold over 10 million so far. Of course, others claim she has sold "hundreds of millions".
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