Can We Actually Use Data to Predict Bestsellers?

data, code, algorithm, publishers, bestsellers, new york times, booksThe upcoming book The Bestseller Code is getting a great deal of buzz, forcing many of us to ask the question, Can one genuinely predict what kind of book will become a New York Times bestseller (typically considered the most prestigious bestseller list)?

The promise of a formula for predicting a bestseller is getting many in the publishing industry and those who write about books excited, or at least curious. Several journalists contacted me for an opinion about the book because of my background in pub-tech and reader analytics. Thus, I became interested in reading it, and St. Martin’s Press was kind enough to provide me with an advance reader copy.

First of all, this is a delightful book to read. I would recommend it as both an entertaining and educational read for anybody interested in the business of books. This is not a magisterial work, like Merchants of Culture by John Thompson, but a book written for the mass market with plenty of anecdotes and examples that readers and authors can relate to.

The “code” is based on some of the latest advances in machine learning as applied to literature, but the authors attempt to simplify the computer science behind the book. There is no mention of “big data” or artificial intelligence—just plain and simple descriptions of what the “black box” does, with references for interested readers to find out more about its inner workings.

Much more.

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Book Sales Fell $38.6 Million at B&N (Pub Lunch)
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Len Riggio Promises to Fix Barnes & Noble (PW)
Concern about Barnes & Noble’s Nook business gave way to worries about its core retail operation when the country’s largest physical bookstore chain reported disappointing results for the first quarter of fiscal 2017, which ended July 30. Though Nook sales have been falling for a long time, and fell again in the most recent quarter, B&N did manage to cut the digital unit’s losses in the latest period.

Rock, Paper, Scissors (Hugh Howey)
More bad news in the book world, for those of you following along. On the heels of bad news from the Big 5 publishers, we have yet another dismal earnings report from Barnes & Noble. Sales are down 6 percent over the same period last year, which probably explains why they just changed CEOs … again.

Independent Booksellers See Second Strong Summer in a Row (PW)
Flat was the new up at many bookstores that participated in PW’s annual summer sales survey. Most were trying to keep up with last summer’s sales, which got a bump from Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

Pew: Americans Express Positive Views on Local Libraries (DBW)
The Pew Research Center released the results of a new survey that asked Americans about their views on local libraries. Overall, most Americans view public libraries favorably, according to the survey, with 77 percent saying that their libraries provide them with the resources they need, and 66 percent saying that the closing of their local library would have a major impact on their community.

Cooking Up ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ in Publishing (Pub Perspectives)
“I’m not afraid to ask questions,” says Meze Publishing’s Phil Turner, whose line of pre-sold cookbooks has found traction in the aisles of Waterstones and other UK bookstores.

How Digital Technologies Are Changing Lettering (Scholarly Kitchen)
For decades, those fonts were driven by the form’s physical limitations. Cheap paper and blotchy ink required adaptation in order to fit more dialogue into less space while still remaining readable.

BookTube: The Network By and for Book Lovers (BookWorks)
If you haven’t ventured into the world of the BookTube, you should, because so many active book readers and buyers hang out there.

Perseus Distribution to Use Ingram Network (PW)
As it continues to integrate the former Perseus Books Group’s distribution divisions into its own operations, the Ingram Content Group has announced that starting October 1 it will ship titles from those units to independent booksellers through the Ingram distribution network.

Bloomsbury USA Restructures (PW)
Following U.K-based Bloomsbury’s decision to divide its worldwide business into consumer and non-consumer divisions, the company’s U.S. branch has promoted Cindy Loh to the newly created role of v-p and publishing director of consumer publishing. Loh, who has been publishing director of Bloomsbury’s American children’s unit since 2012, will oversee both adult and children’s publishing in the U.S.

Translating Japanese Literature (Pub Perspectives)
Author Hiromi Kawakami and translator Allison Markin Powell are linked by literature, as Powell opens a new database of Japanese-to-English work.


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