The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality


By Balázs Kovács, Institute of Management, University of Lugano and Amanda Sharkey, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago

Although increases in status often lead to more favorable inferences about quality in subsequent evaluations, in this paper, we examine a setting in which an increase to an actor’s status results in less favorable quality evaluations, contrary to what much of sociological and management theory would predict. Comparing thousands of reader reviews on Goodreads.com of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for prestigious book awards between 2007 and 2011, we find that prizewinning books tend to attract more readers following the announcement of an award and that readers’ ratings of award-winning books tend to decline more precipitously following the announcement of an award relative to books that were named as finalists but did not win. We explain this surprising result, focusing on two mechanisms whereby signals of quality that tend to promote adoption can subsequently have a negative impact on evaluation. First, we propose that the audience evaluating a high-status actor or object tends to shift as a result of a public status shock, like an award, increasing in number but also in diverse tastes. We outline how this shift might translate into less favorable evaluations of quality. Second, we show that the increase in popularity that tends to follow a status shock is off-putting to some, also resulting in more negative evaluations. We show that our proposed mechanisms together explain the negative effect of status on evaluations in the context of the literary world.

Check it out here.

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2 thoughts on “The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality

  1. I do agree!! Some nominations are quite astonished in the sense they are not a true masterpiece. In my opinion, unfortunately the commercial aspect still prevails.

  2. Yep – and here we are now swamped by Donna Tartt, reviews of which waay exceed its worth. Seriously, how does it stand up to the writing in War and Peace or Germinal or Les Miserables.

    Tartt comes no way close.

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