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BookNet Canada explains the 'Canada Reads effect'

Everyone says that being named a Canada Reads books affects sales. National recognition, instant acclaim, skyrocketing sales, Canada Reads is up there with the Scotiabank Giller Prize when it comes to shaking up the CanLit landscape. (We're not quite in Oprah Book Club territory, but it's not for lack of trying!)

But what does all this mean, exactly? How many sales? How are they tracked? What goes on behind the scenes of the book buying world? I've been wondering this ever since I joined the Canada Reads team in September, so I thought I'd turn to the master. Samantha Francis is the marketing manager for BookNet Canada, an organization that tracks book sales and works to improve the Canadian book supply chain. Samantha graciously answered my questions about the "Canada Reads effect."

BookNet Canada

Q: How does BookNet Canada tracks sales data?

A: BookNet Canada created BNC SalesData to track trade sales in Canada. We've been tracking trade sales for just over five years now. The way it works is that every week contributing booksellers send us data on the books they've sold. SalesData tracks a lot more than just unit sales, but that's the gist of how the sales tracking end of things works. We capture about 75 per cent of all trade book sales in Canada. All sorts of factors can influence changes in sales. Anything from an author tour to the economy has an impact. Of course, some factors are harder to measure than others.

Q: What sort of factors affect sales?

A: The most obvious influence on the market as a whole is Christmas. There's a definite spike in sales when it's time to shop for Christmas presents. For individual titles, awards are one of many factors that make a difference, but it depends on the award. Other major factors are media mentions (think Oprah), the fame of an author and even bestseller lists. If an award is well known it can have a significant impact on the titles that are nominated. Awards and the surrounding publicity help to spread the word about the finalists and winners, and many people see them as an indicator of quality, like an expert recommendation.

Q: So, is one of these factors Canada Reads?

A: Canada Reads definitely has an impact on sales — a big one. Last year, for example, we noticed a lift in sales as soon as the shortlist was announced and sales continued to go up over Christmas. And there was yet another spike was when the winner was announced.

Q: We make several Canada Reads announcements each season. How do sales change with each reveal?

A: Over the past four years, Canada Reads has had an impact right from the beginning, when the finalists have been announced. And, on average, the finalists' sales have been about 33 times larger during the debate week than they were before Canada Reads had begun. Last year, we saw all finalists get a boost as soon as the shortlist was announced. The post-announcement sales of all nominees were an average of 10 times the pre-announcement sales. But beware of statistics — part of that increase is just due to the normal Christmas sales spikes. It can be hard to perfectly isolate one factor when measuring sales. We can't be sure, but, you never know, it is possible that the Canada Reads finalists made it onto more Christmas wish-lists because people wanted to get started on reading the nominees.

Q: What happens after the Christmas rush?

A: After the Christmas rush, the sales for last year's nominees remained consistent for all nominees during the period between Christmas and the debate week. Then comes the win. We saw a lot of movement when the winner was announced — but the spike isn't just for the winner. Last year, the nominees' post-winner-announcement sales were an average of double the pre-winner-announcement sales. During the debate week, the winner's sales were 10 times the pre-win sales, but the real shift occurred the following week. While nominee sales spiked during the debate week, the winner's sales continued to increase after the win, spiking the following week at over 19 times the pre-win sales, and remained high for weeks after that.

It's important that your favourite book gets the support it needs during debate week because we've found that even though the debate week has a strong impact on sales for all nominees, the nominees who are voted off earlier in the week see less of an impact than those who make it to day five of the debates.

Q: So, winning really does matter? At least in terms of sales?

A: All the books benefit from being on Canada Reads. But, obviously, the winner benefits the most. Over the past four years, the winners' sales have on average been over 15 times higher than the average nominee's sales the week after the winner announcement.

Q: What do sales trends for the winner look like after the debates are over?

A: Like any award, the sales peak after the winner is announced and then drop off to regular levels again. However, the effect of Canada Reads lasts, but it does vary year to year.


BookNet Canada is one of the Canadian publishing industry's most valuable resources. Be sure to check out their blog, find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @BookNet_Canada.

Images courtesy Samantha Francis and BookNet Canada.

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