Another year another bunch of Booker books I haven’t read. But, as Shakespeare wrote, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of data visualisation.

The Guardian Data store published sales data earlier this week for this year’s nominated books. The data comes from Nielsen Bookscan, where basically all book sales data we see in the press comes from. It’s normally an expensive subscription service for academics and publishers, so thanks for sharing.

Guardian’s article highlights the effect the Booker Prize has on book sales, comparing the before and after sales volumes of previous laureates. We see that winning the Prize, which authors get awarded £50,000 for on the day, can boost the book’s sales by as much as x20, bringing in millions of pounds in incremental revenue.

But what’s the effect of being nominated? How much more valuable is the shortlist compared to the longlist? And so to what extent has the Booker buzz helped this year’s nominees so far?

Notes

There are two dates to note when reading the visualisations:

These are marked by stars underneath the date axis on the weekly volume charts. Notice how the sales volumes shoot up in response to the announcements.

The ‘Weekly Sales Boost’ bars compare the average weekly takings of the book before and after the announcement. The overall impact of the nomination on sales is scored in a scientifically rigorous 3-point scale ranging from benign to bombastic in the ‘Booker Effect’ corner. Where possible, I’ve also included an estimate for the extra sales the nominations have generated so far.

The data I’ve had access to covers the period from Sunday 15th July to Saturday 29th September.

Scroll to the bottom of the page for a detailed explanation on how to read the visualisations. Click on the visualisations to enlarge.

The longlisted novels

Communion Town

Philida

Skios

The Teleportation Accident

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Yips

The shortlisted novels

Bring up the Bodies

The Garden of Evening Mists

The Lighthouse

Narcopolis

Swimming Home

Umbrella

Summary

So we’ve seen some huge boosts for some of the novels in the list, with The Garden of Evening Mists and Narcopolis in particular – both written by fledgling novelists- benefiting dramatically from the attention. Swimming Home, which has already been on shelves for over a year, experienced a huge wake-up call from its nomination, selling just as many units in a fortnight as it has across the entire year. In all, the Booker buzz has generated at least £150,000 in extra sales so far for the books concerned.

As for the big day on Tuesday the bookies think that it’s a toss up between Hilary Mantel’s follow-up to Wolf Hall (which got her the gong three years ago) and Will Self’s modernist mindboggler. Sadly I don’t have an opinion (this guy does) thanks to all the data-lit I have to get through, but I take comfort once again in Shakespeare’s wise words: if data be the food of love, play on.

Summary

Appendix- how to read the visualisations

Legend

Numbered legend above.

  1. This is the number of weeks the book has already been out for and also the number of novels the author already has under their belt. Does a Booker nomination help rekindle interest in books that have been on shelves for a long time? Do new and established authors benefit equally?
  2. This chart shows the weekly volume of the book’s sales (grey line) and also mentions of the book on Twitter (blue backdrop) from Sunday 15th July to Saturday 29th September inclusive. As what’s important to us is how these variables react to the news, I’ve left out the vertical axis to cut down on distraction. Also, the scale used is relative to the book in question; don’t try and compare the sales and Twitter volumes of one nominee against another. There are two dates to note: Wednesday 25th July when the longlist was announced, and Tuesday 11th September when the shortlist was announced. These are marked under the time axis with stars. The Twitter data comes from Sysomos.
  3. This is intended to give a flavour of the novel. I’ve taken snippets from the novels’ epigraphs where they’ve been available and fetched quotes from the internet where they haven’t.
  4. This compares the average weekly sales of the book before and during the 10 week period from w/c 22nd July to w/c 23rd September. For the weekly averages prior to the 10 week period, I’ve taken the total up until 22nd July and divided it by the number of weeks the novel has been out for. To take sales decay into consideration I’ve capped the divisor for the older books in the list at 12 weeks (so if a novel had already been out for 30 weeks prior to our period, I call it 12). Where possible I’ve indicated the % boost.
  5. And here’s the conclusion. How much effect has the Booker buzz had for each of the books? I’ve used a 3-point scale widely embraced in the scientific community to score the impact, taking into consideration the average weekly sales boost and the £ line in the chart. Where applicable, I’ve also estimated how much incremental sales the book experienced during our 10-week period as a result of the buzz, based on sales figures of the week immediately prior to it.
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