The Booker effect

BookNet Canada spends considerable time each fall tracking Canadian literary awards but when somebody like Margaret Atwood makes The Booker Prize shortlist (an international award), it forces us to sit up, straighten out any wrinkles, and pay attention. We're always thrilled to see a Canadian on the list.

Do Canadians buy the books shortlisted for @TheBookerPrizes? @BookNet_Canada dives into the data to find out.

The Booker Prize, formerly known as the Man Booker Prize, is "awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland." In 2014, the rules of the Booker changed: Where previously only authors from Britain, Ireland, or Commonwealth countries were eligible, the prize expanded to include writers of any nationality. Amidst concerns over American authors dominating the prize, there was a call from both authors and publishers to overturn that decision, though to date, American writers are still included for consideration. 

The 2019 shortlist was announced on Sept. 3, 2019. The nominees are:

Photo of The Booker Prize shortlisted books.
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

How does The Booker Prize impact sales in Canada?

As the 2019 shortlist just came out, we need to turn to the 2018 shortlist to look at sales performance over time. The 2018 shortlist comprised the following titles: 

Photo of the books shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize.
  • Milkman by Anna Burns

  • Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

  • The Long Take by Robin Robertson

  • The Overstory by Richard Powers

It can be difficult to gauge the sales impact for titles that may not have had Canadian rights or were not yet on sale in Canada at the time of the shortlist announcement. This was the case for Milkman (the winning title), Everything Under, and The Long Take: Sales began at a much later date due to availability in the Canadian market.

Note: BookNet Canada cannot share sales numbers on individual titles. The graphs below give you an idea of overall sales performance, using data on print unit sales from BNC SalesData, the national sales tracking service for the Canadian English-language trade book market. Read on for additional statistics. 

2018 Booker Prize shortlist title performance

Screen Shot 2019-09-20 at 1.54.58 PM.png

This graph is dominated by the only Canadian-authored title on the list, Esi Edugyan's Washington Black. It far outsold the rest of the shortlisted titles, even the second bestselling title and the winner, Milkman.

Let's see what sales looked like for the four titles that weren't Canadian-authored or The Booker Prize winner.

Close-up of shortlisted titles with biggest sellers (Canadian-authored Washington Black and Booker-winning Milkman) removed

Screen Shot 2019-09-20 at 1.56.05 PM.png

For the titles that were available in Canada before and after the shortlist announcement, we find the following: 

  • Esi Edugyan's Washington Black experienced a 77% increase in unit sales. Washington Black was already selling very well in the Canadian market and was nominated for other awards such as the Scotiabank Giller Prize (which she won on Oct. 1, 2018) and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner was selling moderately in Canada and saw a modest increase of 3%.

  • The Overstory by Richard Powers was also selling moderately in Canada but saw a much larger 77% increase.

Anna Burns' Milkman was only available in the Canadian market two weeks before the announcement that it won the prize, so we can't really compare performance before and after the announcement. In the UK, Milkman sold 963 copies in the week before the prize and 9,446 in the week after.

As for the other shortlisted titles, we find that their sales in Canada increased slightly after the winner announcement and then declined slightly for the next several weeks. 

As graphed above, all titles saw increased sales over the Christmas period. When talking about percent change it's always important to consider that the volume of sales for each title differs substantially. While Washington Black was the biggest selling title by far, Milkman saw a more than 9,500% increase in sales when we compare the average sales for the three weeks following the winner announcement to the three weeks leading up to Christmas. Washington Black saw a 584% increase, and The Overstory saw a 291% increase. 

As for the 2019 shortlist, The Independent has put the current odds on The Testaments at 4/1. We're rooting for you, Peggy. The winner will be announced on Oct. 14, 2019.