The apples and oranges problem

The apples and oranges problem

Books are books. They’re made in the same factories, sold in the same stores, usually by the same publishers.

Which is absurd. Because the relevant and interesting insight gets lost if you look at books as a category.

There’s not a lot in common between a $200 medical textbook and a 99 cent Kindle romance disposable.

The same way that a survey that shows how humans can earn significant income tries to compare Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Evan the YouTube toy kid isn’t of much help.

Bernadette found us this big data study on the book industry. Alas, the authors missed just about all the nuance because they failed to do more than a cursory sorting within the industry. Mostly they determined that bestsellers sell a lot more books than books that aren’t bestsellers. Not a lot you can do with that data except try to make your book a bestseller if your goal is to sell a lot of books.

The bestseller list itself makes no sense. It’s an amalgam of many different buyers buying many different books for many different reasons. Most of the books aren’t substitutes for each other, and most of the buyers arrive and leave the market at random times. It’s not Top 40 radio.

More useful: Figure out if you’re an apple or an orange. Are you an ex-President or a biographer, a one-hit wonder or a professional writer?

For example, there are reliable paths to follow if you’re working in a specific genre, like romance. And different paths for a different genre, like cookbooks. Dig deep to see the well lit path that a self-published business author took, vs. the TV-driven approach a celebrity might follow.

The takeaway: If you can find a category, you can learn from it. But the broader the category, the less you’re going to learn.