The unlikely bestseller, clocking in at nearly 700 pages, is already serving as an interesting case study for modern book publishing. One of the hallmarks of the book’s success is that it is sold out on Amazon, even though there is a digital version available on Kindle, too. … “You can have it on your e-book reader, but that’s not the same as having the book,” said [Harvard University Press sales and marketing director Susan] Donnelly. “I’m not saying this book is a Tiffany’s bag, but nobody goes to Tiffany’s and buys something and doesn’t get that little blue bag. I think there’s still some of that about books.”
The bestseller is already poised to become the most popular book ever for Harvard University Press. Donnelly predicts it will become akin to another classic for the publisher, John Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice.”
Yglesias points out that the book’s success is itself an example of inequality:
Piketty’s best-seller status — though well-deserved — also highlights one of the drivers of contemporary economic inequality. Superstar effects.
People like to buy great books and listen to great songs and watch great movies and TV shows. But people also like to be part of the “in crowd” and “the conversation.” So when certain things reach a certain level of popularity, other people check them out precisely because everyone is talking about them. That means that being the book on economic inequality is much more lucrative than being the fourth-best book on economic inequality.
These kind of disproportionate rewards for superstars have probably always been with us. But as the number of people who could conceivably buy a book grows — because of a mix of population growth and economic progress in poor countries — the returns to being the superstar grow disproportionately fast and inequality rises.