Best Selling Book Covers

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After I finished my masters degree in San Diego, a good friend of mine gifted me a book he thought I'd enjoy. Probably unbeknownst to this friend, my parents and family had long since given up on trying to get me to read books for pleasure. While I'd pour through pages on the internet, and have always loved cinema, I stopped reading (outside of school) when I was about 16.

I was 25, the book was classic science fiction, and it literally changed my life. I read it every day while walking to and from my office on campus. Strolling slowly to school I would get about an hour of reading in per day, and it still took over a month to finish! Not reading fiction for a decade makes your mind out of shape. Now I love books, and have been trying to consume classics that I'd been recommended so many years ago. 

This metamorphosis has made me passionate about books again, concerned for libraries, and an active reader. One thing I noticed right away, especially when buying used paperback science fiction, is how bizarre book cover art can be. They range from basic solid hues, to gaudy airbrushed scenes of romance. This was a culture, an entire art scene, that I knew nothing about!

I do know a bit about movie posters, particularly from my youth working in a movie theater. Movie poster styles rely a lot on templates; basic layouts if you will. These are often very similar within the same genre (e.g the heroes in a V formation).

Color choice in movie posters is also fascinating (e.g. orange/blue contrast use in serious/action movies). There was an AWESOME blog post a few months ago by Vijay Pandurangan on the distribution of movie poster colors over time. Seriously, if you like my blog go read that post here! He found that blue has become much more prevalent in the last ~20 years. Neato!

I started to wonder: are there trends to be found among book covers?

Popular colors? Common layouts? Once again late night musings necessitate data!

Gathering the Data

So I gathered the book covers for Top 10 Best Selling books from USA Today. I wrote a script to grab the Top-10 covers every week (actually 4 weeks per month, 48 weeks a year) from 2000 to 2012. USA Today does a great job of aggregating book sales information from tons of sources, and their Top-10 list is easier to use than most other similar digests if you want a broad census for what people are reading.

How does one visualize ~6000 book covers (about 1300 individual books)? ALL AT ONCE

Here is what 12 years of Top-10 book covers looks like. It is organized in 1-year "bricks", with 2000-2011 top to bottom. In each brick are 48 columns (weeks), Jan 1 on the left, New Years on the right. Rank 1...10 are top to bottom within each brick.

VisWeek Ignite Talk

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Just got home from a super fun event! In conjunction with the big VisWeek conference that's being hosted in Seattle this week, Noah Iliinsky and the fine folks at Tableau put on an awesome party at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown. Party attendance was around 400 people!

Besides a couple gratis beers, and great finger food, there were Ignite talks, including one by yours truly about my recent Starbucks article! Here's the video... (with great thanks to my lovely wife for the thoughtful iPhone capture!!)


Yikes, I'm fidgety! But the room had tons of energy!... and I couldn't pull the mic off the stand.

The United States of Starbucks

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Check out the 5-minute Ignite Seattle talk I gave on this project:


As you might gather from my blog's archives, I really enjoy maps. They are a widely understood and broadly engaging way to convey information, especially when overlaid with other data.

One of my favorite data-maps is a well known piece by Stephen Von Worley: The Contiguous United States Visualized by Distance to the Nearest McDonalds. The furthest you can get within the USA is ~107 miles, incidentally. It's a brilliant post; fun, personal, and on a subtle level is discussing a deep part of Americana.

Another chain restaurant by which we might measure our lives, particularly in the PNW, is Starbucks. This Seattle-based-behemoth has played an integral role in the coffee culture around the world, and along with the Nerd Triumvirate (Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon) has secured our city's place on the global stage.

Starbucks has been used in the past to gauge economic health, and I've found it used as a standard metric in geography classes. The closer you live to a Starbucks the higher your rent is likely to be, and in NYC the density of locations can reach as high as 150 with a radius of 5 miles!

I wanted to look at not only how Starbucks were distributed across the USA (like in Von Worley's McMasterpiece) but how we are distributed around Starbucks.

Here is the USA as mapped by Starbucks-owned locations (with thanks to my friend David B), connected using a Delaunay triangulation. As with Mc D's, these latte-slingers are clustered around major cities and highways. As an aside, I wonder if anyone has tried to calculate the optimal path for visiting every location...
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