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Nornagest comments on Three Worlds Collide (0/8) - Less Wrong

48 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 January 2009 12:07PM

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Comment author: Nornagest 01 July 2013 08:26:53PM *  0 points [-]

Yeah, I think we agree on the problem statement. As to the solution, that's an interesting question. Let's do some Fermi analysis.

We first need to know what popular fanfic is actually looking at in terms of readers. ff.net doesn't expose that information, unfortunately, but AO3 does. If a comment on AO3 is roughly equivalent to a review on ff.net, then each review is worth about a thousand hits. Assume that five or ten percent of those hits, for a long work, are unique readers (logged-in users aren't double-counted, but I assume anonymice on dynamic IPs are when their IP changes), and it looks like Methods has seen one to two million readers.

Now, a popular fantasy novel series can be expected to sell somewhere around twenty million copies (there are few single-volume fantasy books that make that list). Assume five books per series and that half of all readers don't get all the way through, and we're looking at somewhere around eight million unique readers.

If EY is risk-neutral, if he mainly cares about maximizing his readership, and if non-bestselling books usually sell relatively few copies, he would have been correct in writing an original series if there was more than a 12% - 20% percent chance of making it into bestseller territory. That sounds high to me, so I'm going to say that the fanfic approach was probably a good one -- although it's worth mentioning that Methods is arguably as much an outlier in fanfic terms as your average bestseller is in publishing, and retroactively extrapolating from its performance might not accurately model the kind of forward prediction that Eliezer would actually have been doing when he was making these choices. Also, if he happens to have any contacts in the publishing industry, that'd skew things somewhat towards original fic -- not all the barriers to entry are based on dumb luck.

Comment author: gwern 01 July 2013 09:58:33PM 0 points [-]

although it's worth mentioning that Methods is arguably as much an outlier in fanfic terms as your average bestseller is in publishing, and retroactively extrapolating from its performance might not accurately model the kind of forward prediction that Eliezer would actually have been doing when he was making these choices.

I think it pretty obviously does not accurately represent the choice Eliezer faced at the time. Aside from the inherent advantages of fanfiction (no barriers to entry for him or readers, close interaction with readers so he can debug chapters), there are who knows how many thousands of high-quality fanfics he was competing with? It's worth noting that Eliezer has done a fair bit of original and fanfiction before (http://yudkowsky.net/other/fiction) and AFAIK none of them have been wildly successful even when you consider them being short stories etc.