November 29, 2004

News & Opinion: Mathematical Model to Explain Book Popularity?

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 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.

About Dylan Schleicher

Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.