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How will Lightness do in December?

  1. 1.9, as in October (nearly twice par)

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  2. 1.6

    50.0%
  3. 1.3

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  4. 1.0 on par with the most popular string competitors

    50.0%
  5. 0.7

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  6. 0.4 serious slippage (less than half par)

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  1. Nov 9, 2008 #1

    marcus

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    How will "Lightness" do in December?

    I'm interested in how Frank Wilczek's new book about fundamental phyics is doing in the wide-audience book market. It came out in early September and here is how it has fared relative to a convenient benchmark:

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    What this means is that, judging by the Amazon salesrank listing, The Lightness of Being has been selling about twice as well as the string benchmark, at least until recently. During the months of September and October it stood higher by that ratio (smaller rank) than the average used here for comparison.

    As a test of my own perceptions, I'll go on record with a prediction for 1 December.
    I'm forecasting that the salesrank ratio of this book relative to benchmark will be 1.0.
    I think it will be right on par with the average of the five most popular stringy books.

    To give an example of how the ratio is calculated, as of noon pacific on 9 November, Lightness ranked 2957 and the five most popular stringy books were Fabric, Black Hole, Parallel, Elegant hardbound, and Elegant (with ranks 1937, 2679, 2966, 3766, 4316) making the benchmark average 3132.8.

    Comparing Lightness rank 2957 with the topfive stringy average 3132.8 shows that Lightness was doing just slightly better---a ratio of 1.06, which we can round off to 1.1---on that day.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2008
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  3. Nov 9, 2008 #2

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    To briefly indicate why the book is of special interest---comments by three Nobel physics laureates:

    Here's a sample, quoting from
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0465003214/

    Robert Laughlin, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Stanford
    “Vintage Wilczek—fun, simple and right.”

    Jerome I. Friedman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, MIT
    “The Lightness of Being takes the reader on a mind-stretching journey, providing a revolutionary new vision of the universe. Frank Wilczek is an extraordinarily accomplished and creative scientist who has the rare ability to communicate scientific ideas and insights with exceptional clarity—but also with a delightful playfulness.”

    T. D. Lee, Nobel Laureate in Physics, Columbia University
    “This book is deep, simple and incredibly well-written. Starting from the nature of mass, Professor Wilczek leads the reader to an understanding of the most profound ideas and accomplishments in physics today.”

    It's not just run-of-the-popularization-mill. Although spritely it's an unusually serious book. It's written using imagery instead of mathematics in an attempt to reach a wide audience. But above all aiming to be truthful and not con the reader into a false sense of understanding. It makes you think. He wants you to share his thought process about empty space and how matter fields arise from empty space. You have to work. I don't know of any other popularization of fundamental physics that Nobel Laureates have taken the trouble to recommend.

    And the book is post-string--in the sense that it is about unification of forces along unstringful lines, a different view of physics beyond the standard model, and of what to expect from the LHC. He essentially ignores the stringy speculative style we've heard so much of in past decades---for now, that is past history. (Although something could turn up and it make a comeback.)

    So how this book does in the broad market is a kind of weathervane for me, an indicator of how the wind is blowing in the awareness of the reading public.

    ========================

    EDIT TO REPLY TO NEXT POSTS:

    Fra, I am delighted with your idea about Christmas presents! I may well take that suggestion myself.

    Just now (7 AM pacific time) seeing your posts, I happened to check the numbers (which I normally do at noon for consistency).
    Curiously enough your guess would have won! The salesrank ratio was 1.53, so your forecast would have been the closest.
    Lightness of Being ranked 1728, and the topfive stringies were fabric, elegant, black hole, idiot's guide, and parallel worlds (1460, 1806, 2020, 3402, 4543).
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2008
  4. Nov 10, 2008 #3

    Fra

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    I think this is my first participating in a sales rank speculation. I think the sales is going to depend on the marketing and I don't know how much marketing they do relative to the string books. To talk for myself I don't think I would have bought this book if it wasn't for that marcus brought my attention to it.

    I have not read a single one of those mentioned stringy books, so I can not compare the writing style and content, but I hope that it would do at worst on par with stringy books, but I think better.

    /Fredrik
     
  5. Nov 10, 2008 #4

    Fra

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Now when I voted higher than Marcus, I need to make it happen. I would like to take the opportunity to recommend this book as a great xmas gift for all your friends :)

    The LIGHTness of beeing, is also very xmas like. Perfect title for a xmas book indeed. I think I may have even voted a little low.

    /Fredrik
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2008
  6. Nov 12, 2008 #5

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    You are right, it would make a good Christmas present for our son! and a Hanukkah gift for a good friend of ours who is interested in science.

    As of now (noon on the 12th) the index is sitting between our two guesses. Someone who had picked 1.3 would be the winner if this were the target date.
    Lightness ranks 2843 and the top five stringies are fabric, elegant, elegant hard, black, and parallel ranking 1458, 2267, 3533, 4341, 5630 for an average of 3445.8. So Lightness of Being is performing at 1.2, twenty percent above par.

    Smolin's book The Trouble with Physics is still doing OK, by the way. 0.43, fortythree percent of par. What is keeping the stringy sales up is that Brian Greene just came out with a colorful picture book for children. This is getting a lot of promotion and people who order the children's book often at the same time get the idea to buy one or more of his earlier string books.

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    12 November 1.2
    13 November 1.0
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    Smolin book continues OK. As of noon 13 November index 0.49 of par. The Lightness of Being sales were right at par---rank 3326 while topfive stringies were fabric, elegant, elegant hard, parallel, idiot guide ranking 1959, 2873, 4048, 4089, 4400 with average 3473.8. Brian Greene new book's promotion is keeping his other books in demand but no new string book seems able to capture the public's attention for very long.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2008
  7. Nov 13, 2008 #6

    Fra

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    What kind of picture? I hope not a string theory book for kindegarden??

    . o O (Was the young innocent university students too hard to knock?)

    /Fredrik
     
  8. Nov 13, 2008 #7

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    No string content! 16 or 17 cardboard pages (for a total of about 34 sides)
    Images are all Hubble Space Telescope photos in public domain (any book designer can use them free, no royalties!)

    Two or three sentences of the story on each side. Simple story of 12 year old boy who disobeys father and leaves the mothership in a little runabout one-man craft to go and look at a black hole up close to the event horizon. He plans to return to the mothership as soon as he has taken a close look at the event horizon.

    the punchline is that his time passes slower down close to horizon so when he comes back looking for the mothership it is no longer there---mothership's time has passed more rapidly

    the HST photographs of galaxies and nebulas and stuff have all been modified by punching a hole thru the middle of them, a few centimeter diameter. To represent the black hole theme of the book.

    Some people are disgusted with the book and others think it is just the thing to give their children to teach them about Science.
     
  9. Nov 15, 2008 #8

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    12 November 1.2
    13 November 1.0
    ...
    15 November 1.6
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    At noon on 15 November, Lightness of Being salesrank was 1.6 of par---standing at 2283 while the topfive stringies: fabric, parallel, elegant, elegant hard, and idiot guide ranked 2196, 2332, 3284, 3523, 7006. The string benchmark average was 3668.2.

    Smolin book continues OK, and is fairly stable: the 13 November index was 0.49 of par, and on 15 November it was 0.52 of par.

    It occurs to me that if today were our 1 December target, Fra's prediction would be exactly right on. I thought 1.6 was impossibly optimistic, but today's figure shows it has some chance of being right.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2008
  10. Nov 17, 2008 #9

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    12 November 1.2
    13 November 1.0
    ...
    15 November 1.6
    ...
    17 November 1.2
    18 November 1.5
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    At noon on 17 November, Lightness of Being salesrank was 1.2 of par---standing at 3395 while the topfive stringies (parallel, black hole, elegant, fabric, and idiot guide) ranked 3560, 3700, 3833, 4039, 4817. The string benchmark average was 3989.8.
    For 18 November, the Lightness figure was 1.5, the book ranked 3157, while stingy top five (elegant hard, fabric, elegant, parallel, black hole) ranked 4418, 4486, 4961, 4982, 5076, for an average of 4784.6.

    Smolin book's indices for 13, 15, 17, 18 November were 0.49, 0.52, 0.58, and 0.39 of par.

    To eliminate some random noise, I will average 5 noon readings around 1 December to get the target figure. That practice was adopted several polls back, at Gokul's suggestion. So what the poll asks you to do is guess the average Lightness reading for the five days right around 1 December, namely 29th, 30th, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2008
  11. Nov 21, 2008 #10

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    12 November 1.2
    13 November 1.0
    ...
    15 November 1.6
    ...
    17 November 1.2
    18 November 1.5
    ...
    21 November 1.0
    22 November 0.7
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    Noon 21 November, Lightness ranked 3838 (1.0 par) and Trouble ranked 5062 (0.8 par), while elegant hard, fabric, elegant, parallel, and black hole ranked 2999, 3217, 3736, 4014, 5557, for a benchmark average of 3904.6
    Noon 22 November, Lightness ranked 4516 (0.7 par) and Trouble ranked 5293 (0.6 par). An unexpected downturn.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2008
  12. Nov 23, 2008 #11

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    12 November 1.2
    13 November 1.0
    ...
    15 November 1.6
    ...
    17 November 1.2
    18 November 1.5
    ...
    21 November 1.0
    22 November 0.7
    23 November 1.4
    24 November 0.6
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    Noon 23 November, Lightness ranked 2549 (1.4 par) and Trouble 6906 (0.5 par).
    The stringy topfive averaged 3534.6.
    The Smolin book's standing continues surprisingly steady: on 13, 15, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24 November it was 0.5, 0.5, 0.6, 0.4, 0.8, 0.6, 0.5, 0.7 of par. Rather than dropping out of sight after a couple of years prominence (as have a number of its competitors) the book continues to hold reader interest.

    It turns out that Wilczek chose an opportune moment to bring out his book, not only because of the scheduled start-up of LHC but also because much of the book deals with the origin of mass, from sea quark vacuum fluctuations as well as other sources. And the theoretical values of the proton and neutron masses were just calculated according to the QCD that Wilczek co-authored, and came out to withink 2 percent of observation.
    The story Wilczek tells in the book is how much of what we experience about matter arises from the vacuum, by some elegant processes that haven't been explained in earlier popular books.
    The sea quark contribution to hadron mass is on the order of 100 times larger than what the Higgs mechanism contributes. And the recently reported lattice QCD calculation (which took a year of computer time) serves to emphasize that.
    So what Wilczek talks about in the book, and leads into his vision of the future of physics, has just now come markedly to the forefront.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2008
  13. Nov 27, 2008 #12

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    ...
    9 November 1.1
    ...
    12 November 1.2
    13 November 1.0
    ...
    15 November 1.6
    ...
    17 November 1.2
    18 November 1.5
    ...
    21 November 1.0
    22 November 0.7
    23 November 1.4
    24 November 0.6
    ...
    27 November 1.2
    28 November 1.6
    ...
    1 December ...?
     
    Noon 27 November, Lightness ranked 2819 (1.2 par).
    The stringy topfive averaged 3335.6.
    They were fabric, parallel, elegant hardbound, black hole, elegant, at 1791, 2336, 3460, 3757, 5334.

    Noon 28 November, Lightness ranked 2125 (1.6 par).
    The stringy topfive averaged 3426.4.
    They were fabric, parallel, elegant, black hole, elegant hardbound, at 1574, 3131, 3135, 4286, 5016.

    Coming down to the wire. For our 1 December ratio we will average five noon readings centered at that date: 29,30 Nov and 1,2,3 Dec.
    I still think that Fra has essentially no chance of winning, but it is odd that his prediction was 1.6 and that is precisely what the ratio turned out today. Pretty clearly just a fluke.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  14. Dec 3, 2008 #13

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Results for 1 December are in. Wilczek's book The Lightness of Being stood at 80% par, relative to the stringy topfive benchmark.

    Code (Text):

    1 October  1.9
    1 November 2.2
    1 December 0.8
     
    These are based on noon saleranks, smoothed by averaging over a five-day period around the first of the month to eliminate some random fluctuation.

    Smolin's The Trouble with Physics ranked at 60% of par relative to the same benchmark.
    Here's how that book has performed since September 2007

    1 September 6.4 (2007)
    1 October 6.5
    1 November 5.2
    1 December 2.4
    1 January 1.5
    1 February 1.3
    1 March 0.4
    1 April 0.6
    1 May 1.0
    1 June 1.0
    1 July 0.5
    1 August 0.4
    1 September 0.8 (2008)
    1 October 0.4
    1 November 0.6
    1 December 0.6
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2008
  15. Dec 3, 2008 #14

    Fra

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    At least I was second closest ;)

    /Fredrik
     
  16. Dec 4, 2008 #15

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    Yes, you only get the Silver guesser's medal this time, Fra.
    I wish your guess had in fact been closest---the book deserves the widest possible audience.
    Wilczek obviously has better things to do than promote his book, appear
    in the media the way Michio Kaku and Brian Greene do, and all that rigamarole.
     
  17. Dec 4, 2008 #16

    Fra

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    I suspect that perhaps various positive reviews and comments, in sci & pop-sci magazines and on forums like this, is also what helps promotion - since this is probably where the potential readers of these books hang out. This is how I learned about the other books in that same category. If alot of interesting people say good things about a book, at minimum you get a little curious.

    This is mainly why I recently decided to read some of the "string critic" books. I just finished Smolins TwP, and last night I started to read Peter Woit's book from the same year.

    /Fredrik
     
  18. Dec 4, 2008 #17

    Fra

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    You probably pondered this before but if one is to seriosuly try to rate popularity, I wonder to what extent amazon ranking is a good predictor?

    Amazon seems to have everything from pots to jewellery aside books, and I find their website a bit messy. What's their market share really?

    I personally buy all my books at a swedish company (www.adlibris.com) which similar to amazon have a webshop with free shipping, and the most competitive prices I've seen. But they are dedicated on books, and their webiste isn't near as messy as amazons mainpage. And they have all kinds of professional books, with short delivery times. I haven't yet looked for a book they don't have.

    I don't have numbers but at least in Sweden, I would think that at least where I am amazon doesn't have a large market share when there is a competitive local company. So regarding sweden, I suspect that the amazon ranking might not be representative. I figure that anyone buying books here and orders from amazon, which isn't aware of the competitors to amazon must be pretty ignorant.

    But I guess the story is different in US, I have no idea. I don't think where I order publishes any sales ranks.

    /Fredrik
     
  19. Dec 4, 2008 #18

    marcus

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    Re: How will "Lightness" do in December?

    I am retired and want to be frugal, and not act like a habitual consumer. But as it happens my wife and I do buy books fairly often, and we compare prices at amazon with prices at
    bookfinder.com and the english-language site called alibris.com

    Often there are used copies of books that are cheaper.

    I was interested by what you said about adlibris.com and checked it out briefly, but I cannot read the skandinavian languages. My best experience with swedish is to watch the Ingmar Bergmann film of Mozart's Magic Flute, where I know already just what the characters are saying and I enjoy hearing it said in what sounds like an attractive cousin of english.

    BTW I agree that the omnibus marketing strategy of Amazon is somewhat distasteful. So far they do not sell corrupt politicians and lunar real estate, but they seem to sell everything else. On the other hand, Amazon provides the only source of current salesrank information about the books that interest me. So I use their physics bestseller list gladly
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14545
    and I am grateful to them for making it available.

    ============================

    What you say about the accuracy has two aspects.

    A. amazon.com is admittedly not a good gauge of readership outside USA. For example if you go to the Brit version, amazon.co.uk, you see the public buys very different books from a similar-style seller. But actually I am interested in what the US public is buying. Not just interested I should say, but concerned. Appalled even. I deplore the gullibility of my countrymen who are being sold misleading fluff by media celebrity savants. By contrast, I think that Frank Wilczek's book even though it is a popularization is a real science book. A real scientist making a solid effort to convey hard-won new understanding.

    The celebrity show-scientists like Michio Kaku (I hesitate to name others I classify with him as this might give offense to other readers) I believe to be gratifying the reader's imagination and peddling the illusion of understanding----a fantasy version of science, mind-candy. So I watch the bestseller list to see the bad news and also to look for signs of hope, and change.

    B. amazon.com is also admittedly an imperfect gauge of readership inside USA. They don't give sales figures, only salesranks, and they are only a more or less representative slice of the market, not a statistical sample. It's a rough indicator. The compensation though is convenience. It's so quick.
    ===========================

    Your post put me in mind of it and I just now checked the list. Both Wilczek and Smolin's books were around 90% of benchmark. The Smolin book actually ranked slightly better, at 4518, and Lightness of Being ranked 4637.
    For comparison, the five most popular stringy books were
    Kaku Parallel 2046
    Greene Fabric 2913
    Greene Elegant hardbound 2983
    Susskind Black Hole 5815
    Green Elegant 6443
    Benchmark average 4040.0

    At noon today (4 Dec) Smolin's TwP stood at 1.1 and Wilczek's LoB at 0.7
    Benchmark average 3922.8
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2008
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