October 6th, 2004


More Like This?

In 1988, a British mountain climber named Joe Simpson wrote a book called Touching the Void, a harrowing account of near death in the Peruvian Andes. It got good reviews but, only a modest success, it was soon forgotten. Then, a decade later, a strange thing happened. Jon Krakauer wrote Into Thin Air, another book about a mountain-climbing tragedy, which became a publishing sensation. Suddenly Touching the Void started to sell again.

Random House rushed out a new edition to keep up with demand. Booksellers began to promote it next to their Into Thin Air displays, and sales rose further. A revised paperback edition, which came out in January, spent 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. That same month, IFC Films released a docudrama of the story to critical acclaim. Now Touching the Void outsells Into Thin Air more than two to one.

What happened? In short, Amazon.com recommendations. The online bookseller's software noted patterns in buying behavior and suggested that readers who liked Into Thin Air would also like Touching the Void. People took the suggestion, agreed wholeheartedly, wrote rhapsodic reviews. More sales, more algorithm-fueled recommendations, and the positive feedback loop kicked in.

It's a well-reported fact that some slow-selling books shift vast amounts because book-clubs sell copies by word of mouth - but this is the first example I've come cross of a recommendation system turning a book into a best-seller. Generally Amazon recommends books I've already got (because I'm usually buying in a small enough niche that there _aren't_ that many good books to recommend), but I'll be keeping a closer eye on the recommendations from now on.

Rest of article here.

And more...

Previous article actually gets a lot more interesting as it goes along. It talks about the fact that while physical shops can only afford to carry the best-selling records/films, the new services like NetFlix and Napster can carry absolutely everything - for the same profit margins. And they're finding that actually, over half of their profits come from th less popular things, because someone, somewhere wants a copy of it.

An example:

If you love documentaries, Blockbuster is not for you. Nor is any other video store - there are too many documentaries, and they sell too poorly to justify stocking more than a few dozen of them on physical shelves. Instead, you'll want to join Netflix, which offers more than a thousand documentaries - because it can. Such profligacy is giving a boost to the documentary business; last year, Netflix accounted for half of all US rental revenue for Capturing the Friedmans, a documentary about a family destroyed by allegations of pedophilia.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who's something of a documentary buff, took this newfound clout to PBS, which had produced Daughter From Danang, a documentary about the children of US soldiers and Vietnamese women. In 2002, the film was nominated for an Oscar and was named best documentary at Sundance, but PBS had no plans to release it on DVD. Hastings offered to handle the manufacturing and distribution if PBS would make it available as a Netflix exclusive. Now Daughter From Danang consistently ranks in the top 15 on Netflix documentary charts. That amounts to a market of tens of thousands of documentary renters that did not otherwise exist.

Fascinating stuff.

Jesus Christ on a stick!

What are people thinking when they appoint someone who believes that homosexuality is a sin to the post of EU commisioner for justice?

Article here - prepare to be mad with frustration at the sheer stupidity.


Well, that's my father brought back to life, the vizier slain and the princess saved.  I think I win.

(Just finished Prince of Persia : the sands of time - the first game I've finished since Doom.  The original Doom)
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Remixed BBC

This site takes the BBC News website and automatically adds links to Wikipedia and Technorati into the articles.

Hideously illegal from a copyright point of view, but a fascinating example of what can be done quite simply to make web pages altogether more useful.
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    U2 - Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Hor