Is Bill Gates the new Oprah?

I think Tom Gauld put it best...if you don't know Tom Gauld, you really should seek him out. Here is a comic from his book Baking with Kafka available from Drawn and Quarterly. (Read a review here.)

On Jan. 30, the email newsletter, Publishers Lunch, included a brief comment about Bill Gates' impact on sales for Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature after he tweeted about how much he loved and recommended the book for new university graduates.

Naturally, at the BookNet office, we started to wonder what Gates' impact was in the Canadian, English-language print market for a book he was recommending. Looking at the same Pinker book edition back in May, when Gates tweeted "most inspiring book I've ever read" on May 15 to his 44.8 million Twitter followers, there was a 1000% increase in sales in the week ending May 21 and a sustained few weeks of higher sales when the book had really fallen off most people's radars. Sales peaked in the week ending June 4. So it looked like this backlist title did enjoy some lift from Gates' tweet.

Just when we thought that was an interesting one-off anomaly, Gates started talking about how he was excited for Pinker's new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progresscalling it his "new favorite book of all-time." We wondered if Gates could have the kind of influential effect we'd seen before, namely from the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey.

Then we were given a gift: Oprah announced her new Oprah's Book Club 2.0 pick this February, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, at the same relative time that Gates was backing the new Pinker book, Enlightenment Now. The pub date for Pinker's book was moved up to just a week after Jones' An American Marriage. Naturally, we wondered how Gates' support of Pinker's new book would stack up against the doyenne of book recommendations. Is there such a thing as the Gates effect? What kind of uptake does a Gates-recommended Non-Fiction book get versus a tried-tested-and-true Fiction recommendation from Oprah, who (surprisingly, perhaps) has a tad fewer Twitter followers than Gates at a mere 42 million.

We can't release sales figures on individual titles, but the redacted graph below shows that both titles performed well. But, as you might have guessed, we have the data to show that...Oprah rules! Or, perhaps, FICTION rules?!

Gates vs. Winfrey: First four weeks of sales

We specifically looked at the performance of these two books for their first four weeks of sale from the pub date, after each champion took to the internet and shared their endorsements.

When comparing the first four weeks of sale, Oprah's recommendation still holds the most influence in terms of unit sales. She announced the book, tweeted, and blogged about it all on the pub date, Feb. 6. Her video has had 218,000 views to date on Twitter, though she hasn't mentioned it on Twitter since.

Gates interviewed Pinker in a GatesNotes video blog entry on Jan. 26; tweeted to endorse the publication of the book on Jan. 29; posted a video to Twitter on Jan. 30 (212,000 views to date); tweeted a fun fact from the book on Feb. 5; then, interestingly, said nothing on the pub date itself. Finally, on Feb. 24, he had Pinker explain life expectancy as part of his findings from his book (509K views).

Is it clear from the data that both books benefited from having high-profile endorsements for no other reason than respect for the works and the ideas contained with them? It's interesting to compare the sales and ranking of the two Pinker books in hardcover, the first that sparked this investigation and the second that's currently selling. 

First four weeks of sales for Pinker books recommended by Bill Gates

This data tells us that Enlightenment Now has outperformed The Better Angels of Our Nature in the first four weeks of sales. This isn't really surprising since Pinker has published several books since then and his profile has grown since his earlier titles. So we decided to compare more of Pinker's works. Looking at all Pinker's hardcover releases (since we started collecting print sales data in BNC SalesData), Enlightenment Now has had the strongest release by far to date.

Sales comparison for Pinker's hardcover titles

For Tayari Jones, her previous books don't appear to be readily available in the Canadian print market, despite a couple of different award nominations. 

Bill Gates has credibility and a high sincerity quotient. Looking at these two Pinker titles, his endorsement clearly matters. He doesn't have a book club sticker on books he's recommended yet, but maybe he should?