An experiment for Valentine's Day

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Among all the Marginal Revolution Markets in Everything posts, one that personally intrigued me was #4, personalized romance novels.

For $55.95 a company in Florida will produce a unique book based on various details you provide (name, hair color, favorite car, favorite radio station etc.) and then plug those details into a pre-fabricated story running between 180 and 210 pages.

As Tyler Cowen noted:

Some people actually like this idea:

"It was an addictive read because it makes you the star," said Pete Hart, 34, who received a pre-fan novel called "Vampire Kisses" from his girlfriend. "I was referred to as Pedro in the book, which is my nickname. I found that quite charming."

Another fellow noted:

"It read more like a novel or novelette and less like a typical romance novel," he said. "I enjoyed reading it. Besides, I was in it."

I'm intrigued, since I've made typesetting a hobby, and in part because of the huge profit margins. In my experience producing a single 180-210 page book shouldn't cost more than ~$7, so $55.95 would represent an eight times markup. Not bad...

Of course not being a reader of romance novels (or chick-lit generally) I'm somewhat skeptical of the appeal. But I recognize I'm probably not representative of the demographic and so I shouldn't necessarily consider my own opinion too highly. Better to try an experiment and attempt to quantify the appeal generally.

I am going to prepare a personalized book for my wife for Valentine's. This will provide me with one data point. However a sample size of one (especially when she might be biased to say nice things regardless of what she really thinks) isn't large enough to draw any conclusions from.

As long as I'm going to be creating a personalized book for my wife the marginal effort to create an additional personalized book for someone else is very low. (I'm already going to write a Tcl script to take a list of changes and apply it to the original text; re-running the script with someone elses list of changes would be trivial.)

An invitation to participate in an experiment for Valentine's Day 2008

My inivitation to you, dear reader:

I'm willing to produce a personalized trade-paperback (6"x9") version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for you.

I only ask two things:

  1. That you reimburse me after the fact for the actual cost of having the book produced and shipped. (Payment via PayPal or check; I'm estimating the book itself will probably cost in the $9 - $12 range depending on what size font I end up using.)
  2. That after you've given the book to your significant other and (s)he has had an opportunity to read it you complete a short follow-up survey that I'll send so I can quantify peoples reactions generally.

The characters whose names could be changed to customize the story (links are to character summaries at Wikipedia) include:

This chart from Wikipedia shows the relationships between the aforementioned characters.

Location names that could be changed include: Rosings (Lady Catherine de Bourgh's estate); Netherfield (the estate leased by Mr. Bingley); Meryton (the village near where the Bennet's live); Brighton (where Lydia is invited to go with the militia); and Pemberley (Mr. Darcy's estate).

How to participate

Given that Valnetine's Day is two and a half weeks away, and to allow time for production and shipping, please email me (michael at cleverly dot com) with the following no later than Saturday, February 2nd, 2008:

Please put Pride & Prejudice in the subject line of your email to decrease the chances of your email being inadvertantly miscategorized as spam. If you haven't received an acknowledgement from me within 48-hours please send another message.

I'm willing to ship internationally; however, I doubt time would permit your books arrival prior to February 14th, and the shipping expense would undoubtedly be greater.

Incidentally, if the idea of this experiment offends any die-hard fans of Jane Austen you have my apologies in advance.

—Michael A. Cleverly


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