The Canada Reads effect

Canada Reads began with “the spirit of Beyonce” from Lainey Lui and continued with a fierce, bookish fever. Only in Canada is there a reality show dedicated to books! This week, #CanadaReads became a national trending topic as defenders and viewers passionately argued in defense of their favourite books. But as Cameron Bailey, defender of Ru by Kim Thuy, commented: “Our books are not just arguments.” Canada Reads is a competition executed with purpose: to find one barrier-breaking book that all of Canada should read. And that book is Ru by Kim Thuy, defended by Cameron Bailey. Congrats on winning Canada Reads and prepare for an increase in sales!

“People have a voice and they are allowed to use it in support of their favourite book…that is the beauty of where we live and what we are doing here.” — Lainey Lui

Most importantly, Canada Reads gets people excited about reading and reinforces the importance of books and storytelling. But winning can also undeniably change a book’s life. Last year, The Orenda received a 236% increase in sales during the debate week and landed in the #1 spot on The Globe and Mail Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list for three weeks after winning. Although the winner doesn’t receive a cash prize, they get the glory of winning Canada Reads and increased sales in the weeks following the debate… not too shabby.

Looking at year-over-year sales in BNC SalesData, we see a consistent sales trend for Canada Reads titles from 2006-2014, with relatively stable market share among winners. Although we cannot reveal unit sales for individual titles, there is a notable increase in sales following the shortlist announcement, during Christmas, and during the debate week.

Of course, certain titles experience above-average success, likely influenced by additional literary award nominations and success of previous novels. Prior to winning Canada Reads in 2006, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews won the 2004 Governor General’s Award for Fiction, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, and won the 2005 Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year—just to name a few. As a result, A Complicated Kindness saw a noticeable increase in sales during Christmas and sold consistently above-average in the weeks leading up to Canada Reads. Similarly, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda (Canada Reads 2014) was shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Award for Fiction and was longlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize; his earlier work Three Day Road was a contender on the 2006 Canada Reads; and Through Black Spruce won the 2008 Giller Prize. While The Orenda saw the most unit sales of all previous winners in the week during the debate, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (Canada Reads 2009) sold the most copies overall, within the same 24-week period among all Canada Reads winners.

While all Canada Reads contenders experience steady sales prior to the debates and a spike during debate week, there is a significant increase in unit sales and on-order quantities for the winner. Not to mention, many winning titles continue to sell well in Canada. Notably, there is often a close correlation between units sold and the order a title was voted off in the debates. The increase in sales is determined by comparing a title’s market share during debate week to a baseline market share from five weeks earlier. As defenders battle to win Canada Reads, each day of debate is important to a book’s future sales.

While the winner may experience a significant boost in sales, any book nominated for Canada Reads is a winner. This competition gets people excited not just about reading, but about reading Canadian content; as host Wab Kinew declared at the competition’s close: “Go support Canadian literature.” I’ve found myself energized by the debates and the shared passion for reading books that start conversations and break down barriers. All of these books are important and need to be read by all; you can find them in our Canada Reads catalogue.

For more information about how Canadians read, you can also check out our The Canadian Book Consumer research reports.