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New Biography Selection Criteria

   April 22nd, 2010

BiographiesMy library's ever-shrinking book budget has made me be more discerning when it comes to selection. However, one area that is always difficult for me is biographies.

It seems like every troubled athlete, aging celebrity, recovering musician, reality television personality, unfaithful politician (and their wives), have all signed book deals. I don't pay much attention to pop culture personalities, so it's hard for me to tell if the person is someone significant.

So I was joking with a coworker about a new selection criteria for all of these celebrity memoirs. Since the importance of many of these people is based on social zeitgeist, I thought I could use Google to help me decide. I figure that if a person is important, a Google search for that person's name should return at least one million webpages. If they're above that (arbitrary) threshold, I'll buy their biography - if not, then I'll check again when the paperback comes out.

Granted, not all my ideas are practical, but here's how some current biographies fare with this "hive mind" selection criteria:

Obviously, not flawless, but this Google criteria might help tell me who I should pay attention to. And in addition to traditional reviews and ratings, another one of my tactics is to wait until requests for a book reach a certain number before ordering it, but that method only addresses demand after the fact, and leaves out the patrons who didn't think to request it.

Selection is a fine art, but when it comes to biographies, most my crayons are dull.

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8 Responses to “New Biography Selection Criteria”

  1. Chris Says:

    Interesting criteria… But some of these books when new are going to be quite high in the Google rankings, but give them a couple months and they will most likely fall in popularity… I would think you’d need to trend this for several months to a years to gauge the lasting popularity of the person in question.

    Sadly, I would bet that The Way Things Ought to Be by Rush Limbaugh still ranks pretty high on The Google, even though the contents are probably not very relevant anymore. (If they ever were.)

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Chris: see, that’s the beauty of Google searches for peoples’ name – it sort of ranks how popular they are overall, not just the book.

    It helps people who have been talked-about for awhile before a book was written about them, but it hurts people like Nujood Ali and Robin Olds, who might only be known because of their books. It would be interesting to track search returns over time, but I try to do that with Amazon sales rank too, and it’s a pain.

    And yes, 4,280,000 for “Rush Limbaugh” means he’s almost twice as popular as Jenny Sanford.

  3. Marcie Says:

    I figure biographies don’t usually have a very long shelf life. Of course I want ones with good reviews that are about historical figures that students need to know about, or people who like a meaty nonfiction book might be interested in. These bios generally have a long shelf life, though perhaps not high circulation stats. They will be useful for years.

    However, I also want to try to satisfy kids who want to read about their favorite sports star or the woman who peruses “People” magazine and sees an interesting book there. This second category of biographies is the one that I figure will not last long. They’ll go out while they’re new and in the news but not much after that.

    Yes, budgets are tight and we need to get the most out of our dollars, but your dilemma about buying biographies illustrates that fine line between giving patrons what they need and giving them what they want. In both cases, I have been more choosy about what I buy while hopefully satisfying most readers.

  4. Dustin Says:

    That’s classic! i ahve to admit I ahve googled my name afew times 🙂 not that important in the eyes of google.
    Have you read the four agreements?

  5. Glenn Says:

    Brian – I think your strategy for celebrity memoirs is a good one.

  6. Chris Says:

    You’ll go blind Googling yourself Dustin! LOL. selection criteria examples

  7. Selection Criteria Says:

    As a quantitative minded person, I like the thinking behind this approach. Lots of hits on google and you’re likely to be interesting to readers.

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