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How Beyonce “Saved” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Latest Novel, Americanah

Beyonce and Adichie

AmericanahWhen Beyoncé sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on her new album, sales of the Nigerian author’s latest novel, Americanah, soared. But the causal link between the two events is under debate.

The American singer released her fifth album, the self-titled Beyoncé, suddenly on the iTunes store in December, without any forewarning or marketing. The album’s 11th track, “Flawless”, begins with a sample of Adichie’s TED talk, “We Should All Be Feminists”:

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According to Jaime Woo on Medium, prior to being sampled by Beyoncé, Adichie’s talk had 200,000 YouTube views, but “once ‘Flawless’ was released, the views rocket up including around 50,000 views the first day.”

The video now sits at 543,183 views.

Similarly, sales of Adichie’s novel Americanah shot up after the album’s release. According to Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic:

At 5pm on December 12, 2013 — the day before the album came out — Amazon ranked Americanah #861 of all hardcover books. Five days later, the book was ranked #632. Today, the book is ranked #179. It’s a staggering rise up the rankings. Moving with such speed through the top 1,000 books on Amazon is a slog, because books in the top couple hundred slots sell much more than books in the low thousands. It’s much harder to advance from #200 to #199 than it is from #2,000 to #1,999.

Many critics have taken this to mean that Beyoncé “saved” Adichie’s latest novel from the doldrums of poor sales. However, the novel’s rise through Amazon‘s ranking was the result of more than just pop music fans.

The Atlantic points out that on 4 December, Americanah was named on the New York Times’ list of top 10 books of 2013, which jump-started sales.

Added to that, Brittlepaper points out that the algorithm Amazon uses to list its top selling titles does not depend on sales alone.

Only the top 10,000 books are updated every hour and the ranking does not depend upon the actual number of books sold, but rather, on a comparison against the sales figures of the other 9,999 books within that same hour. Simultaneously, a trending calculation is applied to arrive at a computerized sales trajectory. So, hypothetically, a book that held a ranking of 2,000 at 2pm and 3,000 at 3pm, might hold a 4,000 ranking at 4pm, even if it actually sold MORE books between 3-4 than it did between 2-3. —

While Adichie’s novel was quietly achieving modest success on its own before Beyoncé and The New York Times’ intervention, the almost stratospheric rise it achieved afterwards is a sad indicator of the gap between perceived success in American or African contexts.

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Image courtesy of Brittlepaper


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