November 29, 2004

News & Opinion: Mathematical Model to Explain Book Popularity?

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 7:23 PM – Filed under: Publishing Industry

J.D. Lasica pointed a Mercury News article out in the comments. The article is titled "Researchers Probe Books' Popularity". Researchers at UCLA and UC-Berkeley are investigating "complex systems", ones that would used to describe things like earthquake aftershocks and molecular interactions. They took that methodology and applied it to books sales:
[ Didier] Sornette's crew analyzed 138 books from Amazon's Top 50 rankings -- works that sold more than 30 copies daily, by [Morris] Rosenthal's calculations.

They found that top sellers tend to reach their sales peak in one of two ways. As predicted, many get there because of so-called exogenous shocks: a major media announcement, a celebrity endorsement, a dignitary's death. In these cases, the instant rise in sales is followed by a fairly quick decline.

Other books inch their way to the top over many months, helped by cascades of tiny ``endogenous shocks'' such as a friend's recommendation. A prime example is ``Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,'' which made the bestseller list two years after publication without a major ad campaign. How? It caught on in book-discussion clubs and spurred women to form their own ``Ya-Ya Sisterhood'' groups.

Such books descend the rankings more slowly than those propelled by exogenous shocks. Much more than a one-time radio announcement or newspaper review, ``when people talk to each other, it sticks to the network much more,'' Gilbert said.