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Study Helps Publishers Spot Book-buying Patterns

What does buying a book say about you? More than you might think. A recent study of those who purchase travel books reveals some interesting trends and could have far-reaching implications for publishers and bookstores.

A popular feature on Amazon.com has become an important new tool in helping book publishers identify sales patterns and buying trends. Using Amazon.com's "customers who bought this book also bought" data, publishers and authors are able to uncover previously unknown book-buying patterns and more efficiently distribute and market their titles.

In one study, adventure travel author, Greg Witt, performed a social-network analysis of over 100 books. His research focused on general travel books, adventure travel books, destination guides, and sport-specific books. By using the Amazon.com feature, Witt was able to uncover what other titles buyers had purchased at the same time.

Witt's "network map" showed that buyers of travel books were also likely to buy adventure travel books and adventure destination books. Bestsellers like 1000 Places to See Before You Die also connected strongly with hiking, trekking and walking books such as Walking the World's Most Exceptional Trails or Classic Hikes of the World.

Unlike a similar study of political book buyers, which revealed a fiercely polarized election year market, the results of the travel and adventure books study showed an adaptive market with broad-ranging interests. Those who purchased armchair narratives were also buying multi-sport how-to books, destination guides and lexigraphic-style resources like atlases.

The study also pinpointed destination or activity-specific clusters. Some of those clusters connected fluidly with other similar clusters. For example people who purchased trekking books were also likely to buy sea kayaking and mountain biking books. However other clusters appeared to be less interconnected. Small clusters of books which do not share readership with other clusters are referred to as "echo chambers." Witt found that people buying surfing books aren't also buying sea kayaking books. Similarly, rock climbing and mountaineering book buyers form an echo chamber that doesn't connect with canoeist or whitewater rafters.

Witt's study also defined a number of "bridging books," those books or series which connect readers from one cluster with another. These books have appeal to both travel aficionados and active adventures. They capture the attention of both armchair travelers and the how-to readers.

"Ultimately," said Witt, "this type of marketing research can be a powerful tool enabling authors and publishers to advertise and distribute their books in more efficient ways. It could help publishers choose titles and designs which appeal to the largest possible audience"
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