Listening to the Coode Street Podcast this morning, I heard Gary mention that, as far as we know, the Hugo is the only award that causes any noticeable effect on book sales. A week ago I would have agreed with him, despite this based entirely on anecdata.
You see, anecdata is all we have. No one does exit polls at bookstores to ask customers why they bought a particular book. We do know, however, that large numbers of people — from Gary & Jonathan to Neil Gaiman to myself — claim to have bought books in their youth specifically because those books were Hugo winners. There’s sufficient mass of anecdata for us to believe that some effect occurred, though we have no idea of the real size.
These days, however, we also have epos data. That’s electronic point of sale, to those of you not in the IT or retail industries. It isn’t accessible to everyone, but publishers do get it, and they are sometimes willing to share.
At Alt.Fiction last weekend I was on a panel about the value of awards. With me on the panel was Tom Hunter, the administrator of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Tom said that he has seen epos data showing that, these days, winning the Clarke has a significant positive effect on epos sales. In other words, when news of the Clarke result goes public, significant numbers of people go out any buy the winning book.
I said “these days” advisedly, because this effect has only been observable in the past two years. That, I am sure, is down to the sterling work that Tom has done promoting the Clarke Award and getting it covered by major media outlets from SFX to The Guardian.
And that’s the point I want to make here. The Hugo is famous primarily because it was the first (and for several years pretty much the only) award for science fiction and fantasy. These days we have lots of awards. We are almost as fond of them as the romance people, and probably for very similar reasons. In order for an award to be of any use in such a crowded market, it has to be effectively promoted, and it has to be respected. This isn’t easy to do, but Tom has proved it is possible. Hopefully it is a lesson that WSFS will learn, and not continue to try to rein in Hugo marketing least the “wrong sort of fan” be encouraged to vote.
By the way, Gary and Jonathan have lots of interesting things to say. I particularly want to endorse their praise for Lucy Sussex. Here’s my review of her previous collection.