The Sant Jordi effect

Making the bestseller lists helps books make the jump abroad and prolongs sales, but it doesn’t guarantee making it to the summer

Excelling on Sant Jordi[1] means reaching the top of the bestseller list and receiving considerable attention in the media and in conversations the day after the festival, especially those between the biggest fans of the traditional ranking. For some titles, this effect is a sure-fire ticket to the summer season, whilst in other cases it’s a simple bump in the road to the inevitable end of their journey. Editors, booksellers and agents argue that the bestseller list does have an impact on the sector, but that this effect is short-lived and doesn’t always guarantee the winners’ survival beyond 23 April.

The obsession with the bestseller list
The effects of Sant Jordi are seen the following week

Bookshops feel the effect of the highest Sant Jordi sales, basically, from the day after. “Immediately after the festival, there are readers who come looking for a specific title because it’s on the list”, says Jordi Gispert of Llibreria 22 in Girona. Lluís Morral, of Laie in Barcelona, also remarks on this trend which “lasts only a short time, around 10 to 15 days”, before things return to normal.
Despite this, the effect of 23 April isn’t always a guarantee of continued survival. Morral explains that “for some books, Sant Jordi is the last hurrah”, so sometimes appearing on the bestseller lists doesn’t ensure survival beyond the day itself. According to Gispert, this is explained because “some titles, like those by Jordi Basté or Òscar Andreu, are sold on the back of media impact” which peaks on Sant Jordi’s day. Others, meanwhile, manage to stretch their lifespan. The two booksellers believe that Nosaltres dos (published by Columna) by Xavier Bosch and La vida que aprenc (Arcàdia) by Carles Capdevila[2], which top the rankings for fiction and non-fiction in Catalan respectively, come under this second category. “They’re books with very loyal readers which helps them to stay among the bestsellers after Sant Jordi”, says Gispert. It also works in their favour that both are local authors and, as such, they can keep advertising their books through presentations around Catalonia. “These events are a boost for sales and reinforce the word-of-mouth” says the literary director of Rosa dels Vents, Carlos Martínez, who this year has conquered the bestseller podium with Un home cau, de Jordi Basté i Marc Artigau, which came in third position. Martínez believes that Sant Jordi has marked “the starting shot” for this literary thriller[3].

Momentum towards summer
Topping the Sant Jordi list can help towards being book of the year

Having a guaranteed place in the summer season is a little easier if a book got a good spot in the Sant Jordi ranking. “The festival is a push to gather momentum towards July and August”, says Columna’s Glòria Gasch, who this year has seen three of her authors among the five bestsellers in fiction in Catalan (Xavier Bosch, Pilar Rahola and Rafel Nadal). Gasch emphasises that, despite this success, they can’t abandon the books to the whims of the market. “They won’t suddenly drop in sales but, as publishers, we have to keep pushing them. In summer we look for a balance between new releases and the Sant Jordi titles”, she says. Beyond the promotion by publishing companies, however, word-of-mouth is fundamental in reaching the summer months. “When all the people who have bought these books have read them, they will talk about them. That has an impact, but you never know when it will happen or how long it will last for”, says publisher and publishing consultant Ester Pujol. “For a title to have a long life, it has to be talked about and it has to be recommended”.
Still, for many books it’s difficult to cross the threshold into summer. Pujol underlines that then titles remaining from the festival will have to compete with a wide range of new releases, and that’s a tall order. “In the past, few new titles were published before the summer, but that trend is now being broken” says the editor. Those that overcome the challenge of the summer can climb even further and become bestsellers of the year. “Appearing on the Sant Jordi list is a trump card, a boost”, says Pujol, noting that books released for 23 April “have more months to run, although you might get strong sales in autumn, which determines the success of the year”.

The jump abroad
Publishers use Sant Jordi as a guarantee to sell rights

If appearing in the festival’s lists doesn’t mean a book’s life is automatically extended, it can act as a gentle nudge to being embraced by translators. The literary director of Rosa dels Vents explains that, for publishers outside Catalonia, “Sant Jordi is a small miracle” which can show a book’s acceptance by part of the wider public in its country of origin. “It works as a guarantee, it gives a vote of confidence”, specifies Martínez. Gasch also suggests that being on the list “is very valuable for making the jump abroad” and that it is “an incentive to purchase a book’s publishing rights”.
Ester Pujol believes it’s closer to a numerical tool that can promote translations, but notes that they depend on many factors. “The lists are influential, but nothing is decisive”, she says.

Anna Soler-Pont, of the Pontas literary agency –which represents authors like Dolores Redondo and Rafel Nadal— is more cautious. “The bestseller lists are ever less important. Readers are sovereign, there’s no stronger impact than word of mouth”, she states, stressing that “Sant Jordi has no significance abroad”. Despite this, she admits that within Catalonia the Sant Jordi ranking “increases [a book’s] visibility and stimulates curiosity, despite not being mathematical: there are books that sell many copies without featuring on the list”.

The commercial effect
Good weather and the day falling on a Sunday have helped sales

In numerical terms, the day’s impact on sales is evident. Jordi Gispert and Lluís Morral estimate that sales on 23 April make up around 5% of the total annual income of their respective bookshops. In other places, this percentage can reach up to 20%. “This year we have done very well on Sant Jordi and the days leading up to it”, says Gispert, who predicts that: “it will be a long time before we have such a good Sant Jordi again”.

In a similar vein, Morral explains that the week ahead of 23 April, during which the campaign gets into gear “has been very strong”. The good weather and the fact that Sant Jordi fell on a Sunday this year have helped to achieve these results. We’ll have to wait until Thursday for the final conclusions, because that’s when the Booksellers’ Guild will reveal the total income for the day and the definitive bestseller list.


Translator’s notes:

[1] Among the many patronages of Saint George (Sant Jordi in Catalan), along with that of England, is that of Catalonia. His feast day, 23 April, is a major regional festival. The traditional gifts are roses for women (mothers, girlfriends, wives, daughters, etc.) and books for men; every town fills with dozens of stands run by charities, schools and businesses where these can be bought.

[2] Neither book has been translated into English. Literally, Nosaltres dos is “Us two” and La vida que aprenc is “The life that I learn”.

[3] Similarly, currently unavailable in English. Un home cau is literally “A man falls”.

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