Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Amazon's foreign publishing push: A customer data play

May 20, 2010Hop Skip Go

I'm trying to imagine everything Amazon knows about me. The company's computers know the books and music I buy, the ones I click on, the ones I send as gifts. On my Kindle app, they can monitor the ones I read, and even gauge my enthusiasm. (As they well know, I'm struggling with The Golden Bowl.)

Given all that data, which foreign books would I be most likely to buy if they were translated? As I read on Mashable, that's what Amazon wants to figure out. The new imprint, AmazonCrossing, will buy rights to non-English language books, translate them, and market them to readers statistically most likely to buy.

My question: Since the market for translated books in this market is small, how can they draw statistical correlations between North American readers and foreign writers they don't know? I look at the French Amazon page for the first book Amazon is translating, Tierno Monénembo's King of Kahel. Readers of that book appear to be interested largely on other non-English writers. I don't see any Tom Clancy or Ian McEwan overlap.

Still, this is an interesting challenge: What are the most telling statistical correlations between people of different languages and cultures? In global markets, it's an important question, and Amazon's just starting its research.

One detail. Translators are paid between $6,000 and $8,000 to for a 60,000-word novel. (That's a small book, 5,000 fewer words than the Numerati).

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