August 23, 2010

It's a power law world

Over the weekend, my sister Kate's novella, A Man of Few Words, briefly made it into the top 10,000 in the Amazon Kindle rankings, and into the top 100 in the Kindle Regency category.

Granted, the long tail at Amazon is by now so long that this is the result of selling on average one Kindle book a day for two weeks. Moving into the top 1000 would require selling ten times as many. But you never know!

I'd like to see Amazon plot the Brownian motion out here on the long, long tail, and observe how some titles break away while most others sink into (or stay rooted in) oblivion. It'd make for a fascinating bit of visual modeling.

For the self-pubs, just as with the pros, there's an irreducible complexity at work, the eddies and currents of taste and fickle chance choosing one thing and not the other for reasons that can never be completely fathomed.

Consider that Netflix was willing to shell out a cool $1 million in order to improve its predictive movie matching service a mere 10 percent. (In practice, it reminds me of Word's grammar checker: useful but totally unreliable.)

The self-pub hand-wringers are of the same stripe as those who don't trust Adam Smith's invisible hand because they can't see "how it works," because obviously nothing works without an identifiable brain trust behind it.

Study a little physics, though, and you must quickly come to terms with the fact that the world continues to work just fine even when it is completely incomprehensible.

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
8/23/2010 6:15 PM   
This is very cool! With publication, there's always this discrepancy between "I want to get paid" and "I want to be read." When I was younger, I wanted to get paid (of course, when I was younger, I thought a person just GREW UP and became a writer; it was a long time before I realized that even published writers don't necessarily make a steady income)

Now, I'm more interested in my labors being accessible.

I have to admit, though, to being one of those people who never checks out the recommendations on Netflix or Amazon (I practically had a fit when Netflix changed its format and even wrote a nasty letter; when I hunt for new movies, I want a list, not a series of out of order pictures), but I know I'm in a minority.