Hugo Contenders and Popularity, January 2015

It’s the end of the month, so time to check in on the popularity of the leading Hugo and Nebula contenders!

To do this, I use Goodreads numbers. We don’t have a lot of reliable ways to measure sales in the SFF field. Publishers tend to keep their numbers secret, so we’re left having to estimate via the number of Goodreads or Amazon ratings. Since Amazon bought Goodreads in 2013, the Amazon and Goodreads dating has been converging.

I prefer Goodreads because it has a larger sample size. Goodreads is not even close to 100% accurate. My current guess is that it samples 5%-20% of the American readership, and that this varies substantially from author to author. So one author might be sampled at a 20% rate, but another at only 5%. Since Goodreads is now integrated with Amazon kindle, it very much favors books that sell large numbers through Amazon. Authors that sell large numbers of copies through physical outlets, such as Stephen King, do much worse in these numbers. Goodreads also slants decidedly young in its demographic, with all the various statistical issues that brings. So take these with a grain of salt, and they’re better for comparison purposes than for absolutes. Look for differences in order of magnitude, not fine-grain differences such as whether one book has 500 more readers than another.

What I’m looking for is a general since of which novels are “hot” and which are selling more slowly. Since this is the first year of Chaos Horizon, we don’t know how predictive sales are for the awards; I don’t think there’s a simple correlation like “more sales = greater chances of winning.” However, there is probably some sort of “sales floor” we can discover. Without moving some copies, you’re not popular enough to get nominated or win. I also think picking up lots of readers in January has got to help your Hugo/Nebula chances; the fresher a book is in the mind, the better chance of voting for it.

Here’s the full Excel data; it’s getting too bulky to present here on WordPress: Hugo Metrics. I’ve got data going back to October. Methodology: I record the # of Goodreads rating on the last day of the month.

Table 1: Goodreads Popularity for Selected Hugo and Nebula Contenders

Goodreads Popularity January 2015

I’m still blown away by how well The Martian is doing. According to Goodreads, more people read The Martian last month than the bottom 15 books on my list combined. That’s sales power! If The Martian proves to be eligible for the 2015 Hugo, it’ll be a formidable competitor. It would be very interesting to see how such a “mainstream” SF hit does against a more literary SFF novel like Annihilation.

Mandel’s Station Eleven is also on fire, putting up a huge 10,000 reader month. I think that number solidifies Mandel’s Nebula chances, and if she grabs a Nebula nomination, she could make a run at a Hugo nomination. I added Skin Game to the list for this month, to get a look at how a popular mainstream urban fantasy novel does against it’s science fiction and fantasy brethren. Very well, it turns out.

Everyone else is sort of floating along. A lot of books have finished up their hardcover runs, and are waiting for their paperbacks to come along and revitalize sales. If I had a book out, I’d want my paperback to come out in January: look at those huge reader numbers for this month. People must be spending their Holiday gift cards! Frontline possibilities like Annihilation are selling well enough to still be in the mix. I’d point to books like City of Stairs, The Goblin Emperor, and The Mirror Empire, which are all languishing at the bottom of my list. They’ve been doing well on Year-End lists, but they don’t have the sales to match that critical enthusiasm. Here’s a chart showing momentum over the past 3 months:

Table 2: Goodreads Momentum for Selected Hugo and Nebula Contenders

Goodreads Momentum January 2015

I’m surprised that January did better than December. People must have been too busy with Christmas too read! It’s interesting to see something like The Martian build momentum over the last 3 months; word of mouth really is paying off for a book like that. In contrast, something like Ancillary Sword is basically flat over those same three months. I’m interested to see if such momentum is predictive or not.

Check out previous posts in this series to see the evolution of this data: December, November, October.


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2 responses to “Hugo Contenders and Popularity, January 2015”

  1. reading SFF says :

    This is very interesting. I’m also a bit sad because books I favor are either very low on your list or not on it at all. I’ll not let myself be influenced by sales numbers, though.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Sales and popularity are only one part of the awards equation. You’re right not to be influenced by them! Also keep in mind that Goodreads represents popularity with the general reading public. A more specific group of SFF fans (like Worldcon voters) will have different tastes, so their chart would be different. Unfortunately, I don’t know way of measuring that popularity.

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