Award-winning books judged more negatively

Award-winning books tend to be judged more negatively than during their pre-award days, researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the University of Lugano reported in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly.

The study – “The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality” – was authored by Amanda Sharkey and Balázs Kovács.

The researchers gathered and analyzed data from thousands of reader reviews of 32 pairs of books. In each pair, one book had won a prestigious prize while the other had been nominated but did not win.

Examples of prestigious awards include the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Award, or the Booker Prize.

Award-winning books linked to lower ratings

Sharkey says:

“We found that winning a prestigious prize in the literary world seems to go hand-in-hand with a particularly sharp reduction in ratings of perceived quality.”

Sharkey and Kovács had theorized that when a book wins a prestigious award it attracts a much broader range of reader types, with a greater diversity of personal tastes. This larger sampling of readers is not the result of any particular preference for the type of book or author, but rather because it is an award-winning book.

They tested this theory by creating a “forecast” ratings for each book based on how pre-award readers had rated books in the same genre. They then looked at how the book’s forecast ratings changed after the announcement of the award by comparing the original predicted ratings with post-announcement predicted ratings.

Non-winning books have sustained ratings

They found that prior to the announcement of a book winning an award, the predicted ratings of that book just before the award were equivalent to the ratings of a book that was about to lose. However, after the award announcement, the award-winning book started having a higher percentage of negative ratings compared to the book that did not win.

Sharkey explained “This is direct evidence that prizewinning books tend to attract new readers who wouldn’t normally read and like this particular type of book.”

The authors believe their findings also apply to other media, including movies.

Sharkey said:

“The types of movies that win Oscars may be very different from the types of movies we watch and like during the nine months of the year when it’s not awards season.”