What happens when a Canadian author receives the Nobel Prize for literature? Too much happiness, if such a thing is possible when it comes to book sales.
The announcement on Oct. 10 that Alice Munro won the Nobel for 2013 resulted in an astronomical spike in sales of her books – not just in Canada, but internationally.
Ms. Munro’s daughter Jenny Munro is to accept the $1.2-million prize in Stockholm on Tuesday on her mother’s behalf. The 82-year-old master of the short story is too frail to travel to the ceremony and is in Victoria at the home of her daughter Sheila.
A study released on Monday by BookNet Canada shows that sales of Ms. Munro’s books increased 4,424 per cent in Canada from the week ending Sept. 21 to the week ending Oct. 19.
“The Nobel [for literature] is one of the more well-known awards for one thing, and there haven’t been a lot of women who have won it, and there’s never been a Canadian who has won it before,” BookNet president and CEO Noah Genner said of the staggering increase. “So that had a lot of effect definitely within Canada.”
(Ms. Munro is the first Canadian living in Canada to win the prize; Saul Bellow, who was born in Lachine, Que., won the prize in 1976, but his family moved to the United States when he was a child.)
The study, conducted in association with Nielsen BookScan, compared data for Ms. Munro’s hardcover and paperback titles in 10 countries (data from e-book sales were not included). It also found substantial increases in sales internationally, ranging from 369 per cent in Australia (when the time period is extended to Oct. 26, that percentage increase grows to 3,264 per cent – the lag likely explained by the time it took for retailers to get stock to meet the demand) to an increase of 4,213 per cent in Italy.
The U.S. recorded the greatest increase in units sold – from fewer than 3,000 before the announcement to more than 32,600 in the week ending Nov. 2.
(Mr. Genner is careful to point out that an increase in percentages can result from a very low number of books being sold before the announcement.)
A contributing factor is that Dear Life, Ms. Munro’s most recent book (the one she has said will be her last), came out in paperback in Canada and the United States just two days before the Nobel announcement – spiking interest at a time when bookstores had a great deal of stock.
Penguin Canada, which publishes Ms. Munro’s books in paperback, initially shipped 15,000 copies of Dear Life. After the announcement, it shipped an additional 52,000.
“So it’s massive for us, really,” said Nicole Winstanley, president and publisher of Penguin Canada. “I was looking at that first week on sale. And for [Too Much Happiness], the first week [in paperback] was a really respectable just under 400 copies, and for the first week of Dear Life it was 4,500.”
In total, Penguin Canada shipped just over 140,000 of Ms. Munro’s books after the author was declared the “master of the contemporary short story” by the Nobel committee. Random House Canada, Ms. Munro’s publisher in hardcover, shipped more than 20,000 hardcovers and sold more than 25,000 e-books shortly after the announcement.
A Nobel Prize does not always translate to this kind of bonanza at Canadian bookstores. Translations of some foreign winners’ books are not even available in Canada until after the Nobel win, making data comparisons for the BookNet study impossible.
Ms. Winstanley says it was not simply the prize that led to the demand, but the explosion of media attention.
“The first Canadian to win a Nobel, you could not escape Alice’s beautiful face everywhere. She was on the front of every paper and she stayed there for weeks,” she said. “Yes, we see spikes from other prizes, particularly the Giller, but you just don’t see that world coverage first of all, but particularly the intensity of the coverage that we saw here, which was so beautiful.”
With a report from The Canadian Press
The chart below shows her book sales compared to author Doris Lessing, who won in 2007. The largest spike occurs in Week 4, just as Munro won the Nobel and her book "Dear Life" was released on paperback. Sales for her titles increased in other counrties as well, boosting by 4,213 per cent in Italy, 1,069 per cent in the United Kingdom and 722 per cent in the United States.
Canadian book sales
SOURCE: Booknet Canada