Thursday, September 07, 2006

When Titles Collide

Yesterday I noticed an unusual thing when I was reviewing the statistics for my web site--the number of people who had come to the web site by entering search terms related to my first book, The Immortal Game had shot through the roof:

I saw that some of the searches included NPR or National Public Radio as terms, and after a little bit of investigation, I realized that a new book had been released about chess with the same title, and the author (David Shenk) had appeared on several NPR radio shows to discuss his work.

What was even more interesting--to me, at least--was that the Amazon sales numbers for my book improved significantly, which suggested that people were buying my book after searching for the other, either because they found the chess theme interesting or because they were simply confused about which book they were buying.

It turns out there are plenty of opportunities for confusion. The title of both books refers to a famous game in chess history. In my case, the game serves as an underlying metaphor for the plot of the mystery; in the case of Mr. Shenk's book, he uses the game, move by move, as one of the narrative threads in the book, and as a way of explaining chess fundamentals and the evolution of chess styles to a lay audience.

When my book first came out in 1999, I reserved as the domain name for my web site and have kept that name over the years, even though I now use it to publicize all my books and have also pointed to it. As part of the publicity for their book, Random House reserved The two are easily confused, particuarly if you use Google to search for them by entering "the immortal game". Here's what you get:

As you can see, my site is the fourth unsponsored site to show up as a result of the search. However, Amazon and Random House have sponsored two links for the Shank book. I believe the link at the top center costs quite a bit more because it appears with the "natural" searches. The link on the right is less expensive. But, then, to add to the confusion, Alibris has sponsored a link in the same section for my book.

Another interesting parallel between the books is Lewis Chessmen. As I describe in this post, the cover of the first edition of my book features a picture I took of a bishop and a knight using replicas of the original pieces. I bought the replicas from Rose Cottage Industries in the UK. Well, it turns out that Random House is running a contest wherein free sets from Rose Cottage Industries are being given away to help promote the book.

The Shenk book sounds quite interesting and I intend to get a copy for myself since--as you might expect--I've always been interested in chess. But I can't help but wonder if the folks at Random House are concerned about the potential confusion in book buyers' minds. I'm sure they were aware that the title had been used before when they selected it/approved it, but it is interesting to look at the log of web site domains of people visiting my site on the day I noticed the spike in searchs for "the immortal game."


At 6:38 AM, Blogger Mark Coggins said...

Just received a very nice e-mail from David Shenk. He corrected a couple of points in my original post--including the spelling of his name (very embarrassing!). He also explained that the game is used to drive the narrative in his (nonfiction) book, which is very similiar to the use I made of it in my novel.


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