research digest

excerpted from capital ideas

The Downside of Winning a Big Award

Next time an award-winning book catches your eye in the bookstore, think twice before picking it up.sharkey

Amanda J. Sharkey, assistant professor of organizations and strategy, and her colleague Balázs Kovács from the University of Lugano have discovered that reading a book after it has won a prestigious award can spark very different opinions than if it's read in its pre-award days. And while you'd think that a celebrated award might boost opinions of a book, the research suggests the opposite: readers tend to rate books more negatively after they win. Their paper, "The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Impact the Evaluation of Quality," was published in the March 2014 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.

The researchers use reader ratings on the user-generated book review website Goodreads to evaluate readers' opinions of books before and after they win awards. Sharkey and Kovács analyze thousands of reader reviews of 32 pairs of books. One book in each pair had won a prestigious award, including the Booker Prize, National Book Award, or PEN/Faulkner Award, while the other book had been nominated but hadn't won. The research reveals a trend: "Winning a prestigious prize in the literary world seems to go hand-in-hand with a particularly sharp reduction in ratings of perceived quality," write the coauthors.

Why? Sharkey and Kovács theorize that since a book's audience increases considerably after an award is announced, diversity and personal tastes also widen. Therefore, a larger sampling of readers is drawn to a prize-winning book, not because of any intrinsic personal interest in the book, but because it has an award attached to it.

The results are likely applicable to other media, including film and music, according to the researchers. Consider, for example, what motivates people to see a popular film. "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 is not awards season," says Sharkey.–Alice G. Walton

Last Updated 4/23/14