What creates the word of mouth that turns a book into a bestseller? Two items from the NYTBR of June 26 provide an interesting juxtaposition.
Reviewing a new book about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Andrew Delbanco notes “the first print run was 5,000. Within a year, the book had sold 300,000 copies in America, and over a million in Britain. …If ever there was a publishing event to prove te principle that timing is everything, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was it. On both sides of the sectional divide te timber was dry — and Stowe struck the igniting spark.”
But was the spark transmitted by a select group of key influencers, the theory about word-of-mouth propagated by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point?
Duncan Watts’ new book, Everything Is Obvious, suggests a different notion. In his NYTBR review, Nicholas A. Christakis says that “the most highly connected individuals were not the whole story. The spread of an idea or tase depended not only on such individuals, but also on ‘a critical mass of easily influenced people who influence other easy-to-influence people. When this critcal mass existed, even an average individual was capable of triggering a large cascade.’”
So who were the “easily influenced” who started the cascade for Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852? And who will be the easily influenced who lead to the next breakout book of 2011?