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Are Freakonomics copycats dud?

The copycats of the 2005 mega seller Freakonomics, such as Discover Your Inner Economist and The Economic Naturalist, aren't doing well -- says The Wall Street Journal. The story backs it up with some interesting statistics from Nielsen BookScan sales data: the original has sold 119,000 copies since January whereas the copycats have sold only 12,000 copies combined since their spring releases. Seth Godin comments on the story and makes the guess that the original is outselling the copycats 80:1.

Let us take a look at how does all this statistics compare with the Amazon Sales Rank comparison charts at charteous:

No doubt the expanded/revised Freakonomics is doing much better than the copycats. Even the first version (lower line in the chart) is not doing. But I wouldn't call the copycats complete failures. At least not at their current Sales Rank level of between 100 and 1000. It would be interesting to watch this chart over time, though.

There is something else that caught my attention -- The WSJ story compares sales numbers for different time periods: the publish date for Discover Your Inner Economist is Aug. 2, 2007 and that of The Economic Naturalist is May 21, 2007, whereas the reported sales of 119,000 for Freakonomics is since Jan. 1, 2007. So, the copycats may not be doing as bad as a cursory look at the numbers might suggest.

I read the older release of Freakonomics a few weeks ago and was pretty impressed by the basic notion of how the economics of incentives drives human behavior as well as the specific case stories. The first point is easy to understand but its implications in specific situations are usually non-obvious. The specific stories make the connection and often make for very good reading. I am assuming that what WSJ is calling copycats essentially analyze research and observations in different fields with the theory of economic incentives. If so, I wouldn't consider them copycats at all. In fact, I would buy them, at least the ones that become popular, and read them for the stories.

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