The NPR Effect

Jazz singer Robin McKelle.

Jazz singer Robin McKelle's debut CD shot up to No. 5 in Amazon's sales rankings after she was profiled on Morning Edition. robinmckelle.com hide caption

itoggle caption robinmckelle.com

When I heard the lovely voice of jazz singer Robin McKelle on NPR yesterday, I headed on over to Amazon.com to check out her album. Apparently I wasn't alone. Early yesterday, the album was ranked No. 147,669 in sales. Today, it's at No. 5 with a bullet. This, my friends, is the well-documented NPR effect.

It's something of a sport around here... to check out someone's Amazon ranking before and after a music or book story airs. An NPR mention can do more than send it up the charts. Elizabeth Blair's profile of the late Eva Cassidy led to a revival of interest in the singer and a posthumous gold album.

Of course, Amazon doesn't reveal its sales numbers so, who knows, perhaps a handful of people could change the ranking considerably. MIT tried to analyze Amazon rankings for books in 2003 (PDF format). It found a rank at No. 10 represented about 5,000 sales a week. A rank of No. 100,000 was 1.6 sales a week.

An NPR arts desk editor, Tom Cole, says he never looks at the numbers. "It's uncomfortable when a publicist calls you back and says you helped sell this many albums," Cole says, "That's not what we're concerned with."

But that doesn't mean we're not curious about how powerful we are. What we need here is an experiment. We need to pluck an untalented artist from obscurity and see what a NPR profile could do. Any volunteers?

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