‘Algorithms could save book publishing — but ruin novels’

Studying 5,000 book titles published over the last 40 years, Jodie Archers and Matthew L. Jockers have created an algorithm that can predict with 80 percent accuracy which novels will become bestsellers. Traditional book publishers are paying attention to algorithms too — Simon & Schuster hired its first data scientist last year, while Macmillan Publishers acquired digital book publishing platform Pronoun earlier this year largely for its data and analytics capabilities. Katherine Flynn, a partner at literary agency Kneerim & Williams, explains that while this could bring in higher profits for book publishing, the effects for readers aren’t yet clear: “Part of the beautiful thing about books, unlike refrigerators or something, is that sometimes you pick up a book that you don’t know. … It’s sad to think that data could narrow our tastes and possibilities.”