How much does a Pulitzer help a book’s sales? It’s a question we answered last month looking at the past five fiction winners, using sales numbers from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 75% of print sales. Now five full weeks removed from the 2012 Pulitzers, we’re taking a look to see what sales spike—if any—this year’s winners saw following their victory. The results are in, and they’re mixed.
The biggest Pulitzer story this year was the board’s decision not to award a fiction winner for the first time since 1977. The three finalists, however, all saw spikes following the awards, even if they didn’t actually win. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, released in paperback just before the April 16 Pulitzer announcement, saw its weekly sales double from 613 copies to 1,261 copies, according to BookScan. Weekly sales for Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams jumped from 711 to 1,334 following the announcement. The real fiction winner, though, is third finalist Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, which jumped from 933 copies sold to 2,382 copies, and then to 2,413 copies the next week, according to BookScan. All three fiction finalists are still holding steady sales five weeks after the announcement, all posting higher weekly numbers, respectively, than before they were revealed as finalists. The main difference is that the weekly sales for past fiction winners were much higher (5,000 copies and higher per week) than for any 2012 fiction finalist (between 1,000 and 2,000 copies). The takeaway: while none of the three fiction finalists saw as dramatic of a sales spike as any of the Pulitzer fiction winners we profiled in last month’s article, the three spikes, taken together, amount to a respectable increase.
Swamplandia!, especially, seems well on its way to becoming a massive hit—together, its hardcover and paperback have combined to sell 117,238 print copies to date, at the outlets tracked by BookScan—though it hasn’t yet reached the heights of last year's winner A Visit from the Goon Squad (over 300,000 copies sold to date).
The 2012 Pulitzers have had the most significant effect on Poetry winner Tracy K. Smith. Her winning collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf), jumped from 13 copies sold in the week before the announcement to 351 copies in the week following the announcement, according to BookScan. Sales continued to climb the week ending April 29, reaching 666 copies. In total, the collection has sold 1,852 copies out of its total 4,687 copies since it won the Pulitzer.
General Nonfiction winner The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt tripled its weekly sales following its win, going from 482 print copies sold in the week before the announcement to 1,216 copies sold after. In total, Greenblatt’s book has sold 74,632 print copies to date at BookScan outlets, with 5,293 copies selling after the Pulitzer win.
The other two Pulitzer winners, George F. Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis (Biography) and Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable (History), sold most of their copies before their Pulitzer wins, and thus saw less of a spike following the announcement. Gaddis’s book has sold 17,003 copies to date, with only 1,263 coming after its Pulitzer win, according to BookScan; Marable’s book has sold 62,105 copies to date, 2,775 of which came in the five weeks after the Pulitzer announcement.