Previous: The Wildest Way it Could Possibly Have Gone - Our 16 Year Anniversary
Next: The Kony 2012 of Roads - Solar Freakin' Roadways



View count:244,762
Last sync:2022-10-27 06:00
Pizzamas rolls on:
In which John explores how a tiny algorithmic quirk led to his book The Anthropocene Reviewed becoming a surprise hit among readers of large print editions.
p.s. The Anthropocene Reviewed is available wherever books are sold in hardcover, audiobook (narrated by me), e-book, and large print edition (but not in regular paperback, because book publishing is weird).

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
Learn more about our project to help Partners in Health radically reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone:
If you're able to donate $2,000 or more to this effort, please join our matching fund:
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -

Good morning Hank it’s Wednesday Today I want to tell you the strange,   but revealing story of how I suddenly  became a hit with old people.  By the way, I'm breathless because  I've just come from a workout in my   Pizza John football jersey, keeping dry  with my Pizza John hand towel, and,  of course, keeping hydrated  with my Pizza John Nalgene.  All of this magic is available only at and only for the next 12 days. Okay, so this is a story of  recommendation algorithms,  Amazon, books, and the future of publishing.

So last May, my book, The  Anthropocene Reviewed came out  [knock, knock] in hardcover. But not in paperback. Traditionally, hardcovers are published about a year before the paperback comes out  The hardcover's a little more sturdy  and has some bells and whistles.  Like, they have these nice bands on the spine,  they may be imprinted with  secret pictures of Tuatara, etc.

And the idea is that hardcore fans will pay extra to read the book before the paperback comes out  and also to have a beautiful object and because it's more expensive, everybody:  publishers, bookstores, authors makes more money. Like for context, with my novels,   I make about twice as much per hardcover sale as I do for paperback one. But all of this, like so much  of traditional publishing  is, of course, wildly antiquated, right.

Maybe it made sense in 2005,   when my first novel came out, but it certainly does not make sense today  when people expect, with good reason I think, to be able to read however they want  whether that's via e-book, or  audiobook, or hardcover, or paperback. But because of these antiquated  publishing strategies  there is no paperback of  "The Anthropocene Reviewed"  Unless, you count the large print edition. Which looks this, and is designed for people who  want, or need, to read larger type.

So some percentage of people who buy "The Anthropocene Reviewed" from Amazon  just click "paperback" and accidentally  buy the large print edition. And then, also, because this  is my first book for adults,  I am lucky enough to have many older readers or  other people who benefit from large print editions and that's another percentage of the sales. But neither of those is the  primary reason why I recently  became one of America's leading  large print edition authors.  The reason, or at least, the  biggest reason is that a while back  the hardcover of "The Anthropocene Reviewed" went out of stock at Amazon because  a bunch of people ordered it all at once for Sharon MacMahon's book club.

Like, Amazon sold thousands  of hardcovers in a single day  and then, they didn't have any more. But they did have the large print edition  so the algorithm began marketing that  as the primary edition of the book  because it was the only print  version they had for sale And so people bought a lot  of the large print edition.  In fact, they ended up buying  more of the large print edition  than they had of the hardcover  before it went out of stock. And somehow, in that process Amazon's algorithm convinced itself people prefer the large print  edition of this book of essays.

That's the one they want,  and so that's the one I'm gonna show them. And so for the last four months,  whenever people search for "The  Anthropocene Reviewed" on Amazon,  they are disproportionately likely  to be shown the large print edition.  And that is the story of how the  large print edition of my book,  "The Anthropocene Reviewed"  became a USA Today best seller. But the story doesn't end there.

Because the Amazon algorithm believes  the large print edition is the canonical  edition of "The Anthropocene Reviewed"  and because it, therefore, sells very well,  Amazon also thinks that other  people who mostly buy large  print editions will love  "The Anthropocene Reviewed". And this results in more  large print edition sales.  The people who read those books tend to be elderly and over the last couple months  I have seen a huge surge in  fan mail from older people Which has been so lovely They're not reading the book   because of my TikToks or "The Fault in Our Stars",   they've never heard of me but they still like the book. Or, at least, if they don't like the book, they don't write me.  The point is, a tiny algorithmic quirk has created a self-reinforcing cycle.  A phenomenon, needless to say, also seen elsewhere on the internet.

What's the lesson here? Well, first, publishers need to get with the times  and publish both, special  editions for people who want them  and inexpensive paperbacks  for people who want those. Also, two, algorithms are human-directed  and humans are algorithm-directed in ways we do not fully understand.

Oh, and also, three, get all your Pizzamas stuff before it's too late: Hank, I'll see you tomorrow.