Success and Failure in Cultural Markets

Success and Failure in Cultural Markets project was motivated by a puzzling aspect of contemporary cultural markets: successful cultural products, such as hit songs , bestselling books, and blockbuster movies, are orders of magnitude more successful than average; yet which particular songs, books, and movies will become the next "big thing" appears impossible to predict.

The project proposed that both of these features, which appear to be contradictory at the collective level, can arise from the process of social influence at the individual level. To explore this possibility empirically a website was constructed where participants could listen to, rate, and download new music. Using a "multiple worlds" experimental design, the project found support for the ideas in a series of four experiments involving a total of 27,267 participants.

Data Release

Included in this release are 167 data files containing the experimental results, mp3 files from the 48 songs, and the data documentation. The data files are in the ascii text, comma separated values(csv) format.

These data files are to reproduce, and hopefully expand upon, the analysis conducted in the dissertation project by Matthew J. Salganik, supervised by Duncan J. Watts. The experiments were conducted at the Department of Sociology at Columbia University between 2004 and 2007.

Please direct any questions to Prof. Matthew Salganik.


  • Salganik, M.J., Dodds, P.S., and Watts, D.J. 2006. "Experimental study of inequality and unpredictability in an artificial cultural market." Science, 311:854-856. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1121066
  • Salganik, M.J. and Watts, D.J. 2008. "Leading the herd astray: An experimental study of self-fulfilling prophecies in an artificial cultural market." Social Psychology Quarterly, 71:338-355. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/019027250807100404
  • Salganik, M.J. and Watts, D.J. 2009. "Web-based experiments for the study of collective social dynamics in cultural markets." Topics in Cognitive Science, 1:439-468. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1756-8765.2009.01030.x
  • Salganik, M.J. and Watts, D.J. 2009. "The puzzling nature of success in cultural markets." in The Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology, Peter Hedstrom and Peter Bearman (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Salganik, MJ. 2007. Success and failure in cultural markets. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Sociology, Columbia University.

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