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May 1, 2005

The Physics of Book Sales


The Spring 2005 issue of UCLA magazine just arrived, containing a very interesting article about the way best–selling books get to that point.

Didier Sornette, a professor of earth and space sciences at UCLA, used statistical physics and mathematics to analyze 138 books that made Amazon.com's best–seller list from 1997 to 2004.

His conclusion: Best–selling books typically reach their sales peaks in one of two ways.

The less potent way is by means of what he calls an "exogenous shock," which is brief and abrupt.

An example is "Strong Women Stay Young" (above) by Miriam Nelson, which peaked on Amazon's list the day after a favorable review appeared in the Sunday New York Times.

Sales are typically greater, though, when a book benefits from what Sornette calls an "endogenous shock," which progressively accelerates over time, a result of favorable word–of–mouth.

Such books rise slowly but their sales growth is more enduring and the decline in sales is slower and much more gradual.

One example: "Divine Secrets of the Ya–Ya Sisterhood" (below),


which reached the best–seller list two years after it was published without the benefit of a major marketing campaign.

Popular with book clubs, it inspired women to form "Ya–Ya Sisterhood" groups of their own.

I've decided to take the endogenous approach: here, we're building slowly, gradually, and inexorably.

Even as you read this joeheads are meeting up and combining forces, from Reykjavik to Rio de Janeiro.

Our time is coming.

I'm just not sure when.

May 1, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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