Data visualization and BI presents: The Man Booker Prize

Strange name. Seriously good literature.

The shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced Tuesday 6 September:

  • Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending)
  • Carol Birch (Jamrach’s Menagerie)
  • Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers)
  • Esi Edugyan (Half Blood Blues)
  • Stephen Kelman (Pigeon English)
  • A.D. Miller (Snowdrops)

For those of you who find books tiresome (maybe you should just stop reading now, actually, bare with us till the onset of our enthralling data exploration…) or have been living in an anti-literary bubble – where your brain has been usurped by a pair of tiny white headphones and the last thing you read was a discount coupon for Maria’s Pizzeria in 1999 – I’ll explain.

The Man Booker Prize is an annual literary award bestowed upon the book adjudged to be the best original full-length novel of its year. Entrants must be written in English, with eligibility restricted to citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland and Zimbabwe. The award received its obscure name from the original sponsoring company – Booker-McConnell. In 2002, the Man Group became the official event sponsor, hence, Man Booker.

Now, we don’t really care who wins. We’re more interested in dissecting the data and assessing the effect that winning, or being placed on The Booker short or longlist, has on sales. Do listed or winning titles receive a big boost in sales? Which past winners have shifted the most units? And which nations boast the largest number of winners?


Today’s data visualizations, infographics and raw data are brought to you by:

  • Yellowfin, now making Business Intelligence even easier (data visualizations)
  • (infographic)
  • Nielsen Book Scan (raw data)

All Man Booker prize winners and sales volume (1969 – 2010)

Since it’s inception in 1969, 43 titles have claimed The Booker (the award was a two-way-tie in 1974 and 1992).

NOTE: Sales figures are from 1998 (when Nielsen records began) to 2010. Therefore, direct comparisons between pre and post 1998 winners are a little unfair, because as you might expect, the original winner, Something To Answer For, hasn’t been leaping off bookstore bookshelves between 1998 and 2010.

However, considering winning titles between 1997 and 2010, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2002) is a clear favorite, selling almost 1.3 million copies to date. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), the second-best seller, hasn’t even moved half the number of units – and it’s been on the printing press for 13 more years!

All Man Booker prize winners by country (1969 – 2010)

So whilst Martel’s masterpiece has proved dominantly popular, have certain countries produced more writers of Bookeresk pedigree?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, seeing The Booker is a British based award, the honor has been bestowed upon UK novelists an astounding 27 times. The next best is Ireland in a distant second place with six titleholders, with Australia and India sharing third spot with four.

2011 Man Booker longlist by sales volume pre- and post-longlist announcement

But what effect does being listed amongst The Booker contenders have on book sales? As mentioned, the 2011 shortlist was announced on Tuesday 6 September, so the effects of that are yet to be determined. However, the longlist of 13 was revealed on Tuesday 26 July. So how did the publication of this year’s longlist impact the 13 named novels?

NOTE: Data contains sales as of week ending 4 September 2011.


Prior to the longlist announcement, The Stranger’s Child had sold 16,700 copies. In the five-week-window between the publication of the long, and announcement of the shortlist, over 25,000 units have been sold.

While The Stranger’s Child received the largest number of sales post longlist publication, proportionally, the impact on The Last Hundred Days fortunes was far greater. The Last Hundred Days was officially published 1 June. In the almost two months between publication, and the release of the longlist, it sold a measly 64 copies. 2,601 units of The Last Hundred Days have been snatched-up in the five weeks since its longlist mention.

However, the award’s affect on The Sense of an Ending is perhaps the most incredible. Despite the title being officially published after receiving a place on the honor roll (4 August), naming it on the list was enough to send people screaming and sprawling towards the shelves, notwithstanding its lack of previous exposure. The Sense of an Ending went from 30 pre-release copies sold, to over 12,500 in one month.

Where to next?

The winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on Tuesday 18 October at a dinner at London’s Guildhall and will be broadcast on the BBC. The winner will receive £50,000 and each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, will receive £2,500 and a designer bound edition of their book. Last year’s winner, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, has now sold over 250,000 copies in the UK alone.

Did someone say Data visualization and BI presents: The Man Booker Prize (Part Two)?

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