The book trade is awash with prizes across all categories from the Pulitzer through to the Lollies for laugh-out-loud children’s books in the U.K. and Ireland. The popular view is that prizes are a good thing for the book trade and authors alike, but is this just anecdotal, or can we back this up with evidential data?
A comparison of sales of titles prior to and after longlist and shortlist announcements, as well as once winners are crowned can shed light on the impact such accolades can have.
Nielsen BookData’s BookScan sales measurement shows how prizes typically drive a big jump in sales, as illustrated by the graphs below, showing U.K. print sales of the 2021 winners of a selection of prizes.
In absolute terms, Damon Galgut’s The Promise and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, winners of the Booker and Women’s Prize for Fiction respectively, saw the biggest uplift in sales in 2021. The Promise saw a three-fold rise in sales of the hardback edition after being longlisted and shortlisted, before increasing by 17 times in the weeks before and after winning. Piranesi’s victory helped drive nearly 10,000 sales of the newly published paperback in the first full week after winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
While more modest in absolute terms, the 2021 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman, saw an even higher (30-fold) rise in print sales in the weeks immediately after winning the prize, with weekly sales barely into double figures before winning transformed into several hundred copies per week after claiming the prize.
And, as if we needed a reminder of why we might regret the passing of the Costa Awards, we can also see from this analysis how important that prize has been, not only for fiction titles but also in genres that tend to receive less attention, such as poetry. Overall Costa winner in 2021, Hannah Lowe’s poetry collection The Kids, saw print sales of more than 1,000 copies in the weeks after winning—85 times higher than that achieved in the weeks prior to being shortlisted.
Nielsen BookData’s Books & Consumers survey collects behavioral data from U.K. book buyers, and it affirms the direct impact that prizes have in helping consumers find and choose their books. On average, a prize was mentioned as a factor in helping discovery and/ or influencing the choice for more than a third of purchases of winners of the Booker, Costa, Pulitzer, and Women’s Prize for Fiction in recent years, a proportion which increases to more than half of purchases of recent winners Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart) and Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo).
As a complement to these data sources, Nielsen BookData’s International Book Prize Awareness & Impact survey gathers the opinions of industry professionals across the world about which prizes are most relevant to them and why, and how prizes can improve to support the industry. In 2021 most respondents were aware of the Booker and Pulitzer Prizes, with these prestigious awards also rated highest in importance. There were variations between respondents from different territories with local book prizes being considered most important: Booker for the U.K./Irish respondents; Pulitzer, National Book Awards, and Newbery for the U.S. respondents; Deutscher Buchpreis and Pulitzer in German-speaking countries; while Sheikh Zayed Book Award was the most important prize for those in the MENA region, just ahead of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and Booker.
Publishers worldwide supported the notion that a prize-winner would benefit from a book prize, with an uplift in sales in their own country or region, media attention, and consumer interest being the top three factors encouraging them to submit books for an international prize. In looking to the future, when asked what the prizes should focus on, the top answers were impartial and independent judging and the media profile of the awards. Now in its third year, the 2022 survey results will be available later this year.