Is All publicity Good Publicity?

March 12, 2011 | 6

Is all publicity good publicity? Are all reviews—even bad ones—good for books? The answer, according to a new study [pdf] by the journal Marketing Science, depends on whether the writer is well known or unknown. The study examined the impact of a New York Times review on the sales of more than 200 hardcover titles. For books by established writers, a negative review led to a 15% decrease in sales. For unknown authors, a negative review increased sales by a healthy 45%.

is a staff writer for The Millions. He is the author of the novels Motor City Burning, All Souls’ Day, and Motor City, and the nonfiction book American Berserk and The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Miracle Century, From the Civil War to the Cold War. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Granta, The New York Times, The (London) Independent, L.A. Weekly, Popular Mechanics, and The Daily Beast. He lives in New York City.


  1. The type of bad publicity is relevant as well. A bad review is probably on the lower-intensity end of bad. On the other end of the spectrum would be something like the Cooks Source plagiarism scandal. Prior to the bad publicity, very few people had heard of Cooks Source. However, as a result of the bad publicity, the magazine as forced to close after all of the sponsors pulled out.

  2. Hmmm. Keep in mind that established authors get much harsher bad reviews than new ones–the NYT has no interest in taking an unknown author and ripping them to shreds. The paper only reviews an unknown work if they see something valuable in it, though the reviewer may dislike the work overall. But the NYT does not hesitate to take a famous author down.

  3. Also worth noting that established authors likely to have larger week one sales and preorders to begin with — and an inevitable sales drop in weeks two and three.

  4. Depends if you have a secondary market I think. Good or bad publicity for product A for instance might have x10 the effect of product B sales. Not as simple as people say maybe………..

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