By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Professors and Amazon sales

Here's a tidbit from the life and culture of academia:

A (much) younger colleague from another university has occasionally asked me about the student protests of the sixties, when I was in college. (This would seem some contemporary version of, "What did you do in the war, daddy?") Last time he asked, I noted in an e-mail to him that I had actually written a book on the subject when I was a Harvard undergraduate.

He proceeded to e-mail me back to report with some chagrin that my old book (which is long out of print, though it sold at the time more than all my academic books since, combined), ranked 812,956 on the Amazon.com book sales ranking -- presumably they track used sales by Amazon third-party vendors -- while his own recently published and very much in-print scholarly book clocked in lower at 1,005,933.

It is fairly widespread knowledge that authors routinely check sales rankings of their books on Amazon. I will confess that I do so as well for my current book, Unleashing Change -- it typically ranks somewhere between l00,000 and 300,000, moderately respectable for a scholarly treatise.

What is, however, bizarre about academics' participation in this pastime is that, when you get down to the sales numbers typical for scholarly books, a mere single sale can, literally, move one's Amazon ranking several hundred thousand places. One sale, and you move from 400,000 to 50,000! The ascent is ephemeral, however, because one moves back down by about l00,000 places each day after the sale.

This doesn't stop us, though. Another colleague (this one from another part of Harvard) once told me proudly that the Amazon number on his book had recently ascended to l50,000. But if he had looked a few hours earlier or later, it would probably have been 50,000 higher or 50,000 lower.

Just so people don't think that academics always have their heads in the clouds.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Apr 03, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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