The Goncourt – whose 2019 winner Jean-Paul Dubois was announced on November 4 – is the most prestigious French literary prize. But is it always a guarantee of success?
We know the prestige of the Goncourt prize, the tension experienced by the writers in the running, the potential upheaval of careers for the laureates. Does the attribution of the precious trophy systematically ensure, however, a consequent sale of the work?
The last two Goncourt sold rather well. In February 2019, Nicolas Mathieu had reached 375,000 copies for Their children after them (price Goncourt 2018). A great performance, which allowed him to surpass his predecessor: Agenda of the day by Eric Vuillard (Goncourt 2017), which had reached 299,700 sales at the end of 2017.
Overall, the winning works are experiencing a huge commercial success each year. This was the conclusion of a study published in October 2017 by the GfK marketing institute. The study measured the average sales of books awarded between 2012 and 2016 and observed that the Goncourt's award-winning works sold an average of nearly 400,000 copies, far more than those rewarded by prizes like Renaudot (around 220,000 sales). ), Femina or Interallied (between 40,000 and 85,000).
According to the 3rd barometer Ipsos / CNL on French and reading, published March 13, 2019, the majority of French programs book purchases before going to a point of sale. "If the press encourages them less than before to move, the literary prices drain even more readers than in 2017", explains Isabel Contreras from Livres Hebdo. Peak sales are achieved shortly before Christmas. Because each year, the Goncourt becomes the beautiful book that one wants to own … and is found at the foot of all the fir trees.
Some works even explode the counters. The benevolent Jonathan Littell broke the 500,000 mark in 2006, the year of his coronation. Better, sales of Soft song by Leïla Slimani, exceeding 500,000 in the year of the award (2016), approach in 2019 the million copies (all formats).
But the "Goncourt effect" has its limits. Alabama Song Gilles Leroy failed to reach 200,000 copies sold in 2007. Compass, by Mathias Énard, had barely passed them in 2015. Even at Gallimard, which has published 38 works winning the coveted prize since its creation, there is a gap between the prowess of Soft song Leïla Slimani in 2016 and the 177,000 copies sold French Art of War Alexis Jenni sold in 2011.
According to Isabel Contreras, the differences in sales can be explained by the accessibility and the subject of the book: "Sweet song deals with a contemporary subject, about a young family in an urban environment.The writing is accessible, the reading fast, which facilitates its sale". Different case with Compass of Mathias Énard, for example, "more erudite and dense, less accessible for some, should we conclude"adds Isabel Contreras.
And if 80% of the sales of an award-winning book are made the year after the award, other factors boost readers' interest, such as the publication of the book in pocket format, its translation or its film adaptation. Worn on the screen by Albert Dupontel in 2017, Goodbye up there Pierre Lemaître, Goncourt 2013, has sold more than 900,000 copies. What to forget the symbolic endowment of ten euros offered to the winners.