Part of the outcry over the lack of a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction selection this year relates to the sales increase that each year’s winner inevitably receives, and how that windfall will be absent in 2012. But just how big of a sales increase does a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel experience? Using Nielsen BookScan, PW took a look at the last five winners of the fiction prize—A Visit from the Goon Squad, Tinkers, Olive Kitteridge, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Road—and the effects the win had on sales.
The trade paperback for Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad (Random House) was released just four weeks before its Pulitzer victory in April 2011. Weekly sales of the book immediately tripled following the announcement—in the week leading up to the announcement, the book sold 3,800 copies; the next week, after the announcement, the book sold 9,578 at the outlets tracked by BookScan (about 70% of print sales). Sales then hovered around 10,000 copies per week until June, and the book finally dipped under 5,000 copies per week in the week ending September 11, 2011. On average, following the Pulitzer, Goon Squad’s weekly sales for a three month period were triple what they were before the prize. To date, the book has sold 280,000 copies in trade paperback at outlets followed by BookScan. It should be noted that none of these figures includes e-book sales, which would’ve likely figured into Egan’s novel's sales most prominently out of all the past winners.
Paul Harding’s Tinkers perhaps benefitted the most from winning the Pulitzer. Published in early January 2010 by Bellevue Literary Press, the book had only sold 1,120 copies at BookScan-tracked outlets before the Pulitzer announcement. To date, it has now sold 360,000 trade paperback copies in outlets followed by BookScan. The weekly spike is also astounding: in the week before the announcement, Tinkers sold only 40 copies. The next week, immediately following its Pulitzer victory, it sold 1,042 copies, doubling its total sales in a seven-day span. The following week, sales continued to climb, reaching 6,131 copies, and weekly sales remained steady around 5,000 until January 2011, 10 months after it won the Pulitzer.
2009’s Pulitzer winner, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House), saw an immediate bump of 4,000 more copies sold in the week following its win—it sold 1,197 the week ending April 19 and 5,257 the week ending April 26. Trade paperback sales climbed the next few weeks, posting 8,660 copies, 10,896 copies, and 11,141 copies, and, all told, weekly sales didn’t fall below 10,000 until February 2010, 11 months after it won the prize. Before the Pulitzer, Olive Kitteridge had sold 25,000 copies in paperback; to date, the book has sold 914,000 copies in stores traced by BookScan.
Oscar Wao is different from other winners because it was only available in hardcover at the time of its win in April 2008. As a result, Junot Diaz’s book saw only a relatively modest uptick following the announcement, jumping from 1,087 to 3,713 in weekly sales. The book had already sold 60,000 copies in BookScan outlets by the time it won the Pulitzer. Sales were moderately higher on a per week basis following the award, hovering around 4,000 copies, but it was when Penguin released the trade paperback on September 1, 2008 that sales spiked. The book sold 11,512 copies in its first week, and weekly sales didn’t dip below 5,000 until April 2009. To date, the book has sold 510,000 copies in paperback and 147,000 in hardcover, according to BookScan.
The Pulitzer effect is most difficult to measure for 2007’s winner The Road, and that’s largely due to its selection for Oprah’s Book Club. Random House published a trade paperback edition of Cormac McCarthy’s novel following Oprah’s pick, and the book sold 59,288 copies in its first week in late March 2007 through outlets followed by BookScan. The Pulitzer announcement came only three weeks later and, by that time, the book was already off to the races. There was a (relatively) slight jump in sales the week following the Pulitzer announcement (34,009 copies to 43,718 copies), but the numbers fell the week after. McCarthy, a reclusive writer, decided to give a rare interview to Oprah in June 2007, and that appearance seems to have had a greater impact on sales than the Pulitzer win, as weekly sales jumped from 18,122 to 56,037. Given that the trade paperback regular edition of The Road (there are three trade paperback editions) has gone on to sell 1,441,000 copies to date at outlets traced by BookScan, it’s not clear how much the Pulitzer victory helped sales, but it appears that the prize doesn’t have as much sway with the reading public as Oprah.
And though the extent of the Pulitzer effect may be more difficult to determine for certain books, it's unquestionable that it provides a sales boom for the winning author and publisher--one that will be absent this year.