# every bestselling bookJune 26, 2009 12:15 AM   Subscribe

frivolous absurd question filter: if f(x) = "the length of shelf space required (in metres) to house every book (in english paperback edition) to have sold more than x copies in the last hundred years", what value of x would fill three ikea billy bookcases?

prompted by friend's parents' solidly packed bookshelves, the original question was:

what would a rough 2d plot of f(x) where
f(x) = "the length of shelf space required (in metres) to house every book (in english paperback edition) by a jewish author to have sold more than x copies in the last hundred years" look like?

for lower values of x, this might be impossible to answer, because little might be known about the books and their authors, but above a certain x threshold, authors become quite notable, even if only for sales volume.

But there must be some very high values of x (2 million?) where f(x) is greater than zero but still easy to calculate because there are so few books that have sold that many copies.

this question has since mutated into :

if f(x) =
"the length of shelf space required (in metres) to house every book (in english paperback edition) to have sold more than x copies in the last hundred years", what value of x would fill three ikea billy bookcases? (which have six 80cm shelves)

any ideas on how to answer either of these?
posted by compound eye to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: You have 14.4 meters of shelf space. That's about 500 books. Find a list of the top 500 books and look at the sales figures for the bottom dozen. This will give you a sense of df/dx. I suspect you will find the derivative is fairly low for small values of bookcases.

Do you really want to find x for f(x) = 14.4m? If you're merely curious about the general problem, I suggest you study fA(x), which uses the more easily searchable Amazon Sales Rank, rather than 100-year total sales.
posted by ryanrs at 12:47 AM on June 26, 2009

I don't know what the value of x would be but the conventional factoid is that the Bible is the highest-selling book of all time so I'd expect you end up with three bookcases of various English translations of the Bible in paperback edition.
posted by XMLicious at 12:53 AM on June 26, 2009

Response by poster: amazon sales rank would do fine, i'll do that,
cheers

mat
posted by compound eye at 1:51 AM on June 26, 2009

Note that the sales rank is strongly biased to new releases. This reduces the rank of perpetual top sellers like the Bible. So the fA(x) titles will be different, but I imagine the distribution will be similar.

Wikipedia: List of best-selling books lists some historically popular books and some sources. It's a start, anyway.
posted by ryanrs at 2:19 AM on June 26, 2009

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