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Your book got an award? Be ready for negative reaction

Posted on Feb 16 2014 | IANS

New York, Feb 16 : The latest controversy surrounding "The Hindu: An Alternative History" by US scholar Wendy Doniger notwithstanding, books running into troubles with a section of readership is not new.

But are all acclaimed or prize-winning books controversial?

New research at University of Chicago finds that a book read after winning a prestigious award would likely be judged more negatively than if it's read in its pre-award days.

Amanda Sharkey of University of Chicago and colleague Balazs Kovacs of University of Lugano in Switzerland analysed thousands of reader reviews of 32 pairs of books.

One book in each pair had won an award - like the Booker Prize, National Book Award or PEN/Faulkner Award - while the other book had been nominated but hadn't won.

"We found that winning a prestigious prize in the literary world seems to go hand-in-hand with a particularly sharp reduction in ratings of perceived quality," explained Sharkey.

The researchers theorise that a book's audience increases considerably after an award is announced, as do the diversity and personal tastes of readers.

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.

To test this theory, Sharkey and Kovacs created "predicted" ratings for each book based on the readers' past ratings of books in the same genre.

They then studied how a book's predicted ratings change after an award is announced by comparing earlier predicted ratings to post-announcement predicted ratings.

They found that before an award is announced, the predicted ratings of a book about to win are equivalent to the ratings of a book about to lose.

But after an award is announced, that shifts and award-winning books have lower predicted ratings than books that don't win.

"This is direct evidence that prize winning books tend to attract new readers who wouldn't normally read and like this particular type of book," added Sharkey.

These results are applicable to other media, including film, according to the researchers.

"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's not awards season," explained Sharkey.

The findings would be published in the March issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.

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