How aware of literary awards are Canadian book buyers?

You may remember our blog series on some of Canada's biggest literary awards (The Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionRogers Writers' Trust Fiction PrizeScotiabank Giller PrizeGovernor General's Literary AwardsForest of Reading Awards, the RBC Taylor Prize, and CBC's Canada Reads competition). Each blog post compared sales data from before each shortlist and winner was announced to after the announcements to measure the impact different literary awards have on book sales.

While Canada Reads 2018 wrapped up in March, crowning Mark Sakamoto's Forgiveness as this year's winner, most literary awards take place during the fall. Don't worry, we have award data to keep you satisfied until then!

Canadians' awareness of literary awards

We surveyed more than 700 Canadian book buyers about their purchases in December 2017. While the holidays may be the only thing on everyone's minds at that time of year, it's not too long after award season. So we asked shoppers about the literary awards they are most aware of (both Canadian and international).

It's important to mention that some awards have been created to support authors and the literary merits of their works, so their mandates may not be focused on trade sales and buyer awareness. That being said, sales and awareness are not unimportant, so we find it worthwhile to investigate and track these things.

The results of our study show that, out of all the literary awards we asked about, book buyers were most familiar with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an American award "for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life." In terms of Canadian awards, book buyers were most familiar with the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Awards. All together, respondents were more aware of awards for fiction than awards for non-fiction books.

Luckily, we have amazing Canadian awards for both fiction and non-fiction; you don't have to choose just one! For a quick rundown:

  • There are two Writers' Trust awards: the Hilary Weston Prize for Nonfiction and the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. 
  • The Scotiabank Giller Prize recognizes excellence in Canadian fiction. 
  • The Governor General's Literary Awards promotes Canadian literature of all genres, encouraging both adult and younger Canadians to read.
  • The Charles Taylor Prize increases public appreciation for literary non-fiction.
  • The Canada Reads literary debate increases public awareness of eye-opening fiction and non-fiction books. 

Influence on book purchases

When our surveyed book buyers were asked how they became aware of the books they purchased, more fiction buyers discovered those books because they were prize winners or nominees (1.2%) than non-fiction buyers (0.7%). Respondents were able to select multiple answers for how they became aware of books purchased in December 2017.

Zooming outwards, we can see below how both fiction and non-fiction buyers became aware of the books they purchased. Most book buyers become aware of their purchases while browsing or from reading other books by the same author. 

All in all, literary awards are not high on the list of reasons why most Canadians choose to buy books. That being said, there are always other factors that are difficult to measure. For example, a customer at Indigo may pick up a book simply because they saw it on a table and thought it looked interesting, but Indigo may have put the book on the table because it was an award winner. So while we know that the majority of book buyers don't go into a bookstore determined to find an award-winning title, whether an award-winning title finds them is another story.

If you can't wait for longlist announcements in the fall, take a look at our new master list of literary awards and research studies.