Actuarial Outpost Probability That Any Book May Be Read
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#1
01-25-2016, 06:03 PM
 hakuchen Non-Actuary Join Date: Jan 2016 Posts: 2
Probability That Any Book May Be Read

I have a question and I'm hoping people can impart some wisdom to my dilemma. My dilemma is lack of data to apply to this problem. The question I'm trying to answer is the probability that any book (in the English language) may be read by any Joe Bloggs.

The reason I want to know is because of the protagonist in a new novel that's being written, who is a writer, is on the brink of publishing his book and wants to ascertain his possible readership. This is what has been written:

"Jay grappled to calculate his possible readership—based on a universe of 2 billion English learners, according to Wikipedia. A prominent American research institute cites, eighty-five percent of these “English learners” don’t actually buy books in any given year, approximating to a market-size of 300 million people, which coincidentally, correlates roughly with the number of active customer accounts on Amazon.com. If every one of these people bought the mean number of books, which Pew says is fifteen, from the range of books ever published in human history (129 million books according to Google), each publication would be bought at least thirty-four times, giving him a readership of at least the same amount. And considering that of that number of books consumed in any given year, only forty-three percent will be read to completion—effectively, this means that his book would be read in full by only seventeen other people in the entire universe."

Is Jay's thinking correct? Is there a better way to think about solving this problem? I think it yields inaccurate results because it is calculated using average. I'm thinking somewhere in there we need the probability of something (e.g. non-fiction books consumed or fiction book consumed, etc). Could we say it with a reasonable degree of certainty?

I'd appreciate discussion to solve this very perplexing problem.
Thank you
#2
01-25-2016, 06:11 PM
 nonlnear Member Non-Actuary Join Date: May 2010 Favorite beer: Civil Society Fresh IPA Posts: 31,607

Rather than thinking about populations and market sizes (a great way to come up with rosy projections about any non-existent product), Jay should look at the life cycle of a typical low circulation book's sales. But well before even that, Jay should consider the following problems: how likely is it that one person will read his book? This is a non-trivial problem. Then, how will he go about finding 10 people to read it? After those two calibration exercises, Jay can get back to working towards earning his Field's Medal in consultant arithmetic.
#3
01-25-2016, 06:42 PM
 Dr T Non-Fan Member SOA AAA Join Date: Sep 2001 Location: Just outside of Nowhere Posts: 98,311

Why does "Jay" care if his books are read?
He should care that the books are bought.

"Jay" should work to get a nice, non-refundable advance, than have his commissions start after the advance has been earned.
It's the publisher's job to get the book printed and bought.
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#4
01-25-2016, 09:32 PM
 hakuchen Non-Actuary Join Date: Jan 2016 Posts: 2

Quote:
 Originally Posted by nonlnear Rather than thinking about populations and market sizes (a great way to come up with rosy projections about any non-existent product), Jay should look at the life cycle of a typical low circulation book's sales. But well before even that, Jay should consider the following problems: how likely is it that one person will read his book? This is a non-trivial problem. Then, how will he go about finding 10 people to read it? After those two calibration exercises, Jay can get back to working towards earning his Field's Medal in consultant arithmetic.
Jay doesn't care so much, principally, whether he profits from his writing, moreso that it be read. Perhaps some context would be useful here. As a minimum, Jay's book would need to be read by at least 1 other person (the editor) for it to be published, assuming that he doesn't self-publish his book, which is the case in this example.

Jay goes to a publisher--his book may be read by more people in the value chain (agent, production, design, marketing, et al). Assuming zero sales in the marketplace upon launching his book, it would have to be read by at least x number of people to get it to the stand.

#5
01-26-2016, 12:45 AM
 Bro Member Non-Actuary Join Date: Jan 2015 College: School of Life Posts: 2,037

You're going to want to significantly differentiate between books that have been published more recently and those from long ago in your (129 million books). Those long ago won't get the average # of copies, and those from more recent will get the balance. So presume 100 million will get 3 copies each, solve for the # sold of the other 29 million, you might have a more reasonable estimate of expected copies. [Pick your own numbers, maybe play with it a little bit to see the sensitivities.]
#6
01-26-2016, 10:58 AM
 JMO Carol Marler Non-Actuary Join Date: Sep 2001 Location: Back home again in Indiana Studying for Nothing actuarial. Posts: 37,643

Quote:
 Originally Posted by hakuchen Jay doesn't care so much, principally, whether he profits from his writing, moreso that it be read. Perhaps some context would be useful here. As a minimum, Jay's book would need to be read by at least 1 other person (the editor) for it to be published, assuming that he doesn't self-publish his book, which is the case in this example. Jay goes to a publisher--his book may be read by more people in the value chain (agent, production, design, marketing, et al). Assuming zero sales in the marketplace upon launching his book, it would have to be read by at least x number of people to get it to the stand. Thanks for your heads up nonlnear and Dr T Non-Fan.
You might try to Google "slush pile." I haven't tried it myself, so I don't know what you'll find there.
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#7
01-28-2016, 10:47 AM
 Ryan54673 Member CAS Join Date: Aug 2014 Posts: 128

The uniform distribution (34 each of 129 million books) is a pretty poor assumption. I would expect it to be closer to some sort of exponential distribution, ranging from The Bible and Harry Potter near the top end, and Bob's Irish Cheese Making Guide at the other end.
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#8
01-28-2016, 11:14 AM
 WillTreaty Member SOA Join Date: Sep 2014 Studying for Nothing!!!!! Posts: 3,353

I like cheese.
#9
01-28-2016, 12:27 PM
 Dr T Non-Fan Member SOA AAA Join Date: Sep 2001 Location: Just outside of Nowhere Posts: 98,311

Quote:
 Originally Posted by hakuchen Jay doesn't care so much, principally, whether he profits from his writing, moreso that it be read. Perhaps some context would be useful here. As a minimum, Jay's book would need to be read by at least 1 other person (the editor) for it to be published, assuming that he doesn't self-publish his book, which is the case in this example. Jay goes to a publisher--his book may be read by more people in the value chain (agent, production, design, marketing, et al). Assuming zero sales in the marketplace upon launching his book, it would have to be read by at least x number of people to get it to the stand. Thanks for your heads up nonlnear and Dr T Non-Fan.
Then I don't care so much to solve the problem.
You're welcome!
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 Tags applied intelligence, certainty, math is hard, non-actuarial, probability