Books reviewed more harshly after winning awards: researchers


Authors, be careful what you wish for.

New research out of the University of Chicago suggests that books are consistently reviewed more harshly if read after winning a prestigious literary prize than before, according to

A research team led by economic sociologist Amanda Sharkey analyzed thousands of reader reviews of 32 pairs of books. One book from each pair had won a major award -- such as Man Booker Prize or the PEN/Faulkner Award -- while the other book had received a nomination but didn't win.

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"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 said.

Could this be a result of envious or cynical readers taking a shot at a book that perhaps suddenly exploded in popularity? Not exactly, the researchers found. What tends to happens is that when a book wins a big literary prize, the audience for the book increases dramatically -- mostly individuals who heard it about it through the award and weren't interested in it before (and weren't likely to review it). With a much larger sample of reviewers comes an increase in the diversity of their personal tastes, and naturally, people who would dislike it.

"This is direct evidence that prizewinning books tend to attract new readers who wouldn't normally read and like this particular type of book," Sharkey said.

Sharkey added that the results could likely apply to other forms of media, such as film.