Trending the Booker
15.10.12 | Anne-Marie Scully
Tomorrow the winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize 2012 will be announced.
William Hill's previous favourite Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies is currently neck and neck with Will Self's Umbrella. Since just about everything else in the world of book publishing has turned digital of late—surely there must be a better way to predict the likely winner than just relying on the bookies' odds?
I turned to Google Trends to get some insight. Google Trends is a free, easy to use tool by Google which allows you to compare the popularity of search terms over time and hopefully make some predictions about future trends. It has already proven to be a very useful tool in predicting the outcome of election campaigns but since such events are driven by public opinion, unlike the Booker Prize, this is hardly too surprising.
Looking at search volumes over the past month for this year's main contenders Hilary Mantel and Will Self we can see that although Self has been the most searched-for author, Mantel is currently riding highest.
Looking at the two closest competitors for the 2011 prize for the same time period we see a similar trend. Julian Barnes was the most searched for author in the immediate aftermath of the shortlist nominations with Carol Birch hot on his heels within a few days. However, in the days leading up to the announcement Barnes regained momentum and went on to clinch the prize. If we apply this logic to the 2012 competition Mantel might be the surer bet.
In 2010 the winner, Howard Jacobson, didn't look like a contender at all according to Google search volumes at least. That year the main competitors were the people's favourite Emma Donoghue and the bookies favourite Tom McCarthy. Although Jacobson was the winner it was Donoghue who remained the most searched-for author on Google after the prize was announced, indicating that not winning the prize did not impact her popularity.
In 2009 the race was between Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel. Waters remained out in front in search volumes despite Mantel, the former outsider, becoming the bookies' favourite in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the winner. However, like Emma Donoghue, losing the prize didn't appear to impact search volumes for Waters as she too regained her position over Mantel shortly after the initial hype about the prize died down.
So do we follow the suggestion of 2011 search trends where the most searched-for author leading up to the announcement was the eventual winner, or the 2009 and 2010 trends where the outliers won? With results as inconclusive as these it doesn't look as though even Google can predict the winner of the Booker prize but it does tell us some useful things about it.
Since 2004, search volumes for the Booker have been dropping off, suggesting that the public are no longer as interested in it as they once were. The Pulitzer Prize, though also dropping in popularity remains more interesting to the public than the Booker.
Out of all the winners since 2007, Julian Barnes remains the most searched-for author on Google and didn't suffer as severe a post Booker dip in search volumes that the others did.
It also tells us that Amanda Hocking, the self-published author who has sold over a million e-books is more searched for than Howard Jacobson the 2010 Booker prize winner.
If only there was a prestigious competition for self-published authors, then maybe Google Trends could help me pick the winner. For now I think I will stick with the bookies.
Anne-Marie Scully is a former Google employee, who recently set up a digital publishing company Orchard Wall Publishing, www.orchardwallpublishing.com, whose mission is to help authors find their readers.