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So I have an Amazon referrer account. I’ve had one since 2003. Pretty much I use it to get money when people buy books (or other items) through links here. It’s a non-trivial, though not princely, sum of money. Especially since it’s passive. These are books I’ve read and want to talk about anyhow (usually around Christmas someone follows a book link, and ends up purchasing a computer or two, which is a way of “supporting my work” that I can get behind).
But one of the more interesting side effects is that I can see what my readers are buying (or if they are). For example, it heartens me when I see someone purchase Principles of Population Genetics. That means “I’m making a difference,” as I doubt that these are advanced undergraduates or graduate students. An interesting aspect is that I can see what interests people in terms of “clickbait”, before clickbait was a thing. Bobbi S. Low’s Why Sex Matters routinely gets a lot of clicks because of the title, despite the fact that I don’t flog it. In contrast, In Gods We Trust gets a lot of clicks because I tell people to read it to understand my thinking on religious phenomena.
As the year ends I like to tally books people have ordered. It turns out that the most purchased book through this website for the year leading into December is The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life. For Kindle, it’s Congo: The Epic History of a People.
Another category is conversion rate. In relation to number of clicks what proportion purchase. Tops for the books in that category is Bioinformatics Data Skills: Reproducible and Robust Research with Open Source Tools. My personal experience is that for technical books many people still prefer print for physicality and rendering of figures and graphs. For Kindle the highest conversion was Intelligence: All That Matters and Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. I think there was a “daily deal” or something at one point, and that prompted many purchases of the latter.
Finally, there are books I see which I didn’t recommend, and didn’t know about. An intriguing one off this list is Barry Cunliffe’s By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia. The main issue I’ve had with Cunliffe’s work of late is that he doesn’t seem to be reading enough of the Reich/Willerslev duopoly’s papers. Not that everyone has time to engage in such primary literature diving, but at this point you’re remiss if you write about archaeology and don’t include genetics. Unfortunately a search inside doesn’t indicate that By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean is DNA-heavy, but sometimes you take history and archaeology on its own terms and integrate them into your overall model of the world, rather than having someone else do that for you….