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Is There a Physics of Society? January 10-12, 2008, Santa Fe NM

Organizers: Michelle Girvan (University of Maryland) and Aaron Clauset (Santa Fe Institute)

Friday, January 12, 2008

1100 - 11:40 Matthew Salganik (homepage)

The puzzling nature of success in cultural markets

Hit songs, books, and movies are many times more successful than average, suggesting that "the best" alternatives are qualitatively different from "the rest"; yet experts routinely fail to predict which products will succeed. We investigated this paradox experimentally by creating an artificial "music market" in which more than 27,000 participants downloaded previously unknown songs either with or without knowledge of previous participants' choices. Increasing the strength of social influence increased both inequality and unpredictability of success. Success was also only partly determined by quality: The best songs rarely did poorly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other result was possible. Further, our results suggest that the perception of success can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.