Literary Awards: Canada Reads

You may remember our blog series from last fall on some of Canada's biggest literary awards (you can read about The Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionRogers Writers' Trust Fiction PrizeScotiabank Giller PrizeGovernor General's Literary AwardsForest of Reading Awards, and the RBC Taylor Prize). For the latest post in our series, we're focusing on a somewhat unconventional award: the CBC’s popular Canada Reads competition.

Congratulations to this year's Canada Reads contenders:

American War
Omar El Akkad
McClelland & Stewart

Defended by: Tahmoh Penikett
The Boat People
Sharon Bala
McClelland & Stewart

Defended by: Mozhdah Jamalzadah
Mark Sakamoto
Harper Perennial

Defended by: Jeanne Beker
The Marrow Thieves
Cherie Dimaline
Cormorant Books

Defended by: Jully Black
Precious Cargo
Craig Davidson
Knopf Canada

Defended by: Greg Johnson

You can see all the books in this BNC CataList catalogue.

Canada Reads is an annual week-long televised debate in which five Canadian media personalities each champion an English-language, Canadian-authored title, defending its merits in front of their peers for the privilege of declaring their book as the one the country needs to read. Besides its format, Canada Reads is unique from other awards because of its timing. Most literary awards are announced in the late autumn or early winter, but for the past three years, the Canada Reads shortlist has been released at the beginning of the year. The show itself always airs months after the award (and holiday) season.

Being named to the shortlist, on average, gives the titles phenomenal sales boosts. Although we can’t reveal actual sales numbers, we can share that in 2017, each of the five nominated titles experienced an increase in sales the week following the shortlist announcement, with an average increase of 355%. While the majority of the industry undergoes a post-Christmas sales slump, the Canada Reads finalists buck the trend as their sales grow to levels that meet or exceed holiday levels leading up to debate week. 

And if you have concerns about not finding one of the nominated books before the debate, have no fear: Retailers expect the sales boom following the release of the finalists and are well stocked, from shortlist announcement to the last debate day, to meet the demand.

The winner in particular goes on to enjoy both major media attention and sustained sales for several weeks after the contest. To give you an idea, sales for the past seven winning titles increased by an average of 434% in the week following the competition. Not too shabby.

Debate week also has a positive impact on sales for the rest of the nominees. In previous years, nominees voted off earlier in the week experienced less of a sales impact than those who made it to the end of the week. This trend was not observed in 2017, however, as The Break, the title voted off on day one of the debate, saw the second-highest market shift after the winning title. Sales of The Break were likely also influenced by other award nominations, including the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award and the 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

With that said, don’t let award fatigue slow you down. The weeks between the Canada Reads shortlist and the debate will provide plenty of time to rest and get excited all over again. Keep your eyes glued to your screen. We know we will.

While you’re here, check out this BNC CataList catalogue of last year’s shortlist.