Hacking Bestseller Lists (and quantum lifehacking NP hard problems, proposal for new wireless data transmission scheme)

One of the best ways of promoting a book is to get it on to a “best seller” list. Since newspapers and magazines can’t poll every book shop and website in the world, they have to rely on a select few bookstores and websites to provide a representative sample — kind of how Nielsen ratings used to rely on a few households keeping journals.

That means it’s possible to game the system if you know just which booksellers those are. By splitting a manageably large (3000-11,000) order across the right booksellers, you can guarantee placement on even the Grey Lady’s list.

From a defensive view, there are two separate problems: the ease by which the system can be hacked, and the fact that people use 3rd party lists to figure out what books to read in the first place. The first problem could be solved by massively expanding the sample size, or randomly selecting a handful out of a very large number of stores.

The second problem is a function of knowledge distribution: how can people find out what books are worth it for them to read without relying on a centralized source? That one’s a little harder to solve.

Quantum lifehacking: Can you make your brain better at solving NP hard problems? Much, much better?

Courtesy one of the more interesting discussions to cross my inbox in a while, the answer may be yes. Remember the Neurophone project? One hallmark of the output signal is that it contains an incredibly large set of spectral information. It’s a fast-falling square edge. Your brain doesn’t get this kind of spectral content anywhere else (except, perhaps, standing next to the tweeters at a rock concert when they hit the “distortion” pedal). Therefore, the brain has to learn to process all this extraneous information coming in. It comes in not just acoustically but electromagnetically as well, which means the brain is learning to work with photons as information carriers in new ways. (Research by M. Persinger and F. Popp indicates the brain already works with photons in weird ways.)

One aspect of photons is that they can do all kinds of neat tricks. Massaged right, they should be able to solve NP hard problems much more quickly: specifically, they should be able to give information about which particular options are likely to be fruitful before you try those options. Since the brain has to process a ton of information coming in from the Neurophone in the form of a broadband signal, it may start learning to make use of this effect to aid in the processing. That in turn opens up all kinds of possibilities… hello quantum bio-computing. Being able to forecast which path is the correct one would explain the 40Hz/gambler study cited a while back. It would also suggest that, rather than ASICs, a guy with an EEG would make the best Bitcoin miner ever.

Proposal for new wireless data transmission: In the process of coming up with this, another idea arose. The spectral content of a very short (in the time domain) waveform is extremely broad. The field of ultra-wideband communication uses a series of these waves to provide very high bandwidth data transmission at very low power levels.

What if, instead of encoding information in a series of pulses, one encoded information in a single pulse? Using direct synthesis (as in software defined radio) you can create a sinc or shifted-sinc pulse with arbitrary harmonic content. Therefore, rather than creating a pulse with all the frequencies from 3-10Ghz (or 0-1Ghz, or…), it should be possible to omit certain frequencies or include others.

In the simplest case, consider a signal that contains the 1st, 3rd, 4th, … harmonics — this could decode as 1011, with as many bits as you can get frequency resolution.

Assuming infinite allowable RF bandwidth, the only limiting factor to data rate becomes the sample rate of the receiving hardware, and the flatness of the antennas & analog components used to process the signal. In a perfect world, you could use this to cram a gigabyte in a single pulse.


“The Making of a Bestseller

In exploring marketing strategies for my book, I had indeed stumbled upon the company that Trachtenberg had asked me about, ResultSource. I learned that this niche marketing firm had apparently cracked the code on how the sales of books are calculated by companies like Nielsen that produce bestseller data – the very data that major trade publications, newspapers, and journals rely on to populate their bestseller lists, just like The Wall Street Journal. I learned that bestselling authors like Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos and author of Delivering Happiness, and numerous other bestselling authors had employed its proven methodology.

I too contracted with ResultSource. The strategy the firm laid out for me was relatively straightforward. I would contact my Fortune 500 clients and others and ask them to preorder copies of my book. If I could obtain bulk orders before Leapfrogging was released, ResultSource would purchase the books on my behalf using their tried-and-true formula. Three thousand books sold would get me on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Eleven thousand would secure a spot on the biggest prize of them all, The New York Times list.

Prior to publishing my first book, I had run a thriving consulting and leadership development business, working with some of the biggest and most innovative companies in the world. I also speak at many conferences, so my network of contacts is pretty robust. It took effort, but in the end I was able to secure enough client orders, along with my own purchases to resell at conferences, to make it onto The Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list.[…]

Is it “Gaming the System” to “Work the System”?

Before Leapfrogging came out last August, I sought the advice of some industry insiders and seasoned authors to learn the secrets of book marketing. I tapped into my network and was introduced to someone who had just left her role as an executive at Harvard Business School Publishing. She was the first to mention “bestseller campaigns” to me. According to her, “everyone” was doing it, especially for non-fiction business books like mine.

I also spoke to two of my professional heroes, gurus in the field of management and both regular staples on the Thinkers 50 – the who’s who list of the world’s leading business thought leaders. Both of them told me that if they hadn’t used bestseller campaigns for their own books, they wouldn’t have hit the bestseller lists. “Guruship,” they told me, came from playing the game in a way that reinforced their personal brands as thought leaders. Ponying up the dough for the bestseller campaign was a small investment that would pay off later in speaking fees and consulting contracts.

What was happening here? Had I just uncovered the underworld of the publishing industry, a secret society that knows how to manufacture knowledge, fame, and careers? Was it really true that the practice had become standard operating procedure? If this was how everyone was doing it, was it gaming the system or simply working within the system that existed?

At first, feelings of excitement and disenfranchisement collided within me. On the one hand, I was elated that a bestseller was realistically within my reach – that this elusive status symbol was something I could actually control. But my excitement was tempered with the recognition that the trust I had placed in the very lists endorsed by reputable publications like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and others, might not represent the institution I had assumed it was.

Playing the Game Using Unwritten Rules

I played the bestseller game using unwritten rules. And as I reflect upon what I experienced and learned, it’s clear to me that anyone with enough money can potentially buy his or her way onto a bestseller list. Although most authors attempt to pre-sell books to their existing networks, theoretically, as long as one has enough money to purchase 3000 of their own books while using the tactics of a bestseller campaign to do so, they are basically guaranteed bestseller status. When I have told this same story to friends, family, and my close colleagues, most end up with their jaws on the floor.

Out of the millions of books published each year, very few become bestsellers. Most first-time authors are unaware that these campaigns exist and, if they are, most are unable to apply the strategy because the costs and pre-selling requirements are beyond their reach. In the bestseller campaigning process, a book’s quality – good or bad – has surprisingly little to do with it.

It’s no wonder few people in the industry want to talk about bestseller campaigns. Bestseller lists are revered, longstanding, and – of course – incredibly influential. The fact that it has become standard practice to work the system that determines which titles wind up on these lists is not exactly good PR for an industry that’s already in turmoil.”

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