Love science - Comic by Cyanide and Happiness

Comic by Cyanide and Happiness

I love it when science meets book marketing!  If you wonder what I’m talking about, just read on.

I am an avid Economist reader.  Every issue has a small section about Science and Technology which, I have to confess, I prefer to Finances or Economics, as it invariably includes fascinating (to a nerd like me) news.  In the latest issue, it mentions an experiment conducted by the State University of New York to see whether success breeds success.  The results are impressive and – I believe – are applicable to book marketing.

In this experiment, a team wanted to examine whether giving people an arbitrary advantage over their fellows at the beginning of an endeavour led to a better outcome. They used the Internet for the experiment, in three distinct ways:

  1. By giving various amounts of money to different Kickstarter projects,
  2. By providing good ratings for reviewers at Epinion (different reviewers got different numbers of ratings, all positive) and
  3. by handing awards to Wikipedia editors (again, varying numbers of awards).

The point was to see whether the projects that had been given a helping hand did better compared to the projects that had no help whatsoever.

As you can imagine, the leg-up helped.  Kickstarter projects that were given an initial donation got at least another one: 70% of projects where the team gave a donation had at least another donation, as opposed to 39% of projects which had no help.  In all his experiments, the initial push proved effective and beneficial to the project or the editor.

However, and this is particularly interesting, the level of help did not matter: it made no difference if the team of the professor gave 1% or 10% of the target sum.  Nor did it matter if a reviewer had 1 or 4 helpful review ratings.  In all experiments, the quantity of help had no bearing.  The important thing was that there was some initial help.

Why do I think that this applies to book marketing?  I think that an initial promotion with good reviews and good ratings matters because it gives a useful and critical way in the book publishing and book reading public.  However, it probably makes no significant difference whether you have 10 or 50 good reviews.  Similarly, a Kickstarter project for publishing or marketing money will probably do well, irrespective of whether you have gathered 10% of the target sum or 50% of it.

Having said that, I’m guessing that there must be a “critical mass” point, beyond which it does make a difference. I would find it easier to buy a book with 100 reviews than one with only 10.

So, if launching a new book, try to gather some solid and worthwhile reviews for it; and try to convince friends and relatives to buy it, so that there is some kind of traffic around it.  Of particular interest, in this context, are those “People who bought this book also bought…” suggestions at the bottom of the page.  I gather that this works for any kind of book promotion and marketing.

As to what that means for the next book, it’s easier to push it, but it still requires effort. As the Economist concludes, “Success does breed success, but not overwhelmingly”.  And we have the science to support it!