Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Targeting readers who hate my book

February 11, 2010Marketing the book

Here's someone named R. Hunt reviewing my book on Amazon.

This book was not only boring, I also didn’t learn anything at all. I really struggled to get through this book, and thought many times about just giving up. I wish I had just given up and stopped reading it after the first few pages.

If I were feeling masochistic, I could find lots of others who not only loathed The Numerati, but took the trouble to warn others about it. As a marketer, it would be worth gold to be able to target those people and discourage them from buying the book. It would save them the anguish associated with reading it, or trying to. More important, from a marketing perspective, it would reduce negative word of mouth.

Is this possible? I've followed some of the negative reviewers, to see what other books they love and hate. (Carl Zetie, for example, who found the book too "annoying" and "devoid of value" to finish, gives five stars to the 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time.) Others who dislike the book tend to give high ratings to more technical books about data-mining and math. This points to one of the problems facing general-interest books about technical subjects: some experts are likely to find them too elementary. (This is why it drives me crazy to see the book in the math shelves: mathematicians won't find  math, and general-interest readers won't find the book.)

Yet some of the positive reviewers also appear to be experts. And this is why I think that any attempt to steer clear of negative reviewers is a long shot. The fact is that the negative reviewers have lots in common with the target audience. That's why they bought the book in the first place. And that's why when it falls short of their expectations, they feel so disappointed, and even angry.

Targeting negative customers is easier in other realms. Cell phone companies have advanced algorithms that detect that patterns of subscribers most likely to drop the service. Perhaps with the arrival of e-readers, booksellers will begin to pile up similar behavioral data on readers. Maybe then we begin to target the potential haters.

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