I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Books on the Nightstand, this afternoon and they discussed a fascinating recently published study called The Paradox of Publicity. The study was on a topic that I've heard discussed before: When books win literary awards, the amount of negative reviews for said books increases. The study looked at reviews from Goodreads for 64 books that have won or were shortlisted for literary awards. As expected, the study noted that the number of negative reviews went up. It then came to some conclusions as to why that may be.
Here's why I think negative reviews increase (Turns out my views are very similar to the hosts of Books on the Nightstand even though I didn't intend to copy their opinions):
Not necessarily people new to books, but people new to literary fiction. When a book wins awards, it garners lots of attention. People pick up the book thinking the "should" read it to feel more educated or to be able to show-off to their friends. Or maybe they were assigned it at school or book club. Basically, prior to the award, a book is read by people who purposely sought it out because it sounded like they'd enjoy it. After the award, the book is often read by people who aren't reading it purely for enjoyment.
The study found a positive correlation for this factor. It based the finding on what kind of books raters had previously read. For example, if a reader had only rated Middle Grade novels and then gives a 2 star rating to Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, the logical assumption is that The Goldfinch is not the kind of book the reader normally gravitates to.
A lot of people love nothing better than showing high-falutin' award judges how wrong they were. This group reads an award-winning book looking for faults. As with anything, if you're looking for something wrong, you'll find it. No book is perfect and people can always find something to criticize. Rating an award winning book negatively allows some readers a feeling of superiority - a sense that they're smarter than those snobby award committees.
Interestingly, the study did not find a correlation for this factor. I don't know if I agree with their methodology. They looked at readers who had a book on their Goodreads TBR list before the book won the award versus those who rated it without ever having the book on their TBR list. They hypothesized that people who had listed the book on their TBR list prior to winning the award would rate the book lower because of a popularity backlash. But they didn't. I understand why they used this technique given the available Goodreads data, but I still think that people reacting negatively to a book's hype is a significant factor.