Research study literature

Whether you’re a fan of classic American literature like Of Mice and Men or prefer J.K. Rowling’s modern tales of wizardry and witchcraft, everyone likes to curl up with a good novel every now and then.

With review sites gaining popularity in the internet age, where personal recommendations are just as important as expert reviews, it’s actually becoming easier and easier to find the perfect book for you, safe in the knowledge that thousands of people have chosen to give it the thumbs up.

Our study suggests that the number of positive reviews are on the up for novels, while books themselves are getting longer.

In addition, for the entire shortlist for the Man Booker Prize event which was held in October of this year, the average book length was 457 pages – far above the overall average – which suggests that longer novels tend to win prizes.

In order to explore this, we took 2,515 fiction books from the New York Times Best Sellers and Notable Books lists, along with Google’s “Most Discussed”, over the last 15 years. By using these three groupings, we were able to ensure that only the most relevant, popular and highly rated books were considered.

Novels are getting “better”

In order to first see whether novels are indeed getting better, we matched each and every title up with their user-generated Amazon reviews (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best). We also looked at their release dates and number of pages in order to pinpoint any fluctuations to a timeframe. Here is what we found:

book rating graph

User-generated review scores have risen consistently over the past 15 years, from an average of 3.89 in 1999 to 4.06 in 2014 – an increase of 4.4%.

They’re also getting bigger

To find out whether books are indeed getting bigger, we looked at the Amazon product descriptions for each and every title to get the number of pages. As with the reviews, we also matched this data up with the books’ release dates:

book length graph

The average number of pages has increased from an average of 320 pages in 1999 to 407 pages in 2014.

Also interesting was how much variation there was in book length. The longest books of 2014 were Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson at 1,328 pages and Edges of Eternity by Ken Follett 1,120 pages, while the shortest was Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood at only 80 pages.

So – statistically at least – novels are improving, and getting longer too. But what does this suggest? Are longer books inherently better or is it just a coincidence? Could there be another reason for the findings?

Only the best books from three authoritative sources were considered, lending weight to the findings, but we might consider whether other factors are at play. Perhaps improved marketing techniques have led to higher user ratings, while the popularity of epic tales like Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones has created a trend for longer tomes.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Are books ACTUALLY getting longer, or is print getting larger (thus requiring more pages)?

    • It’s not just the print that is larger. On average, page length has increased by 25 percent over the last 15 years, for best selling books.


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