The Colbert Bump is Real, Colbert’s Nation Not What He Thinks it is

Stephen Colbert has mentioned that he’s having trouble getting guests during the writer’s stike. We find this puzzling, given the supposed benefits of the Colbert Bump. Does being on the Colbert Show really provide a bump—a critical leap that vaults a writer, or a politician to superstardom?

We know that Colbert isn’t a big fan of “facts,” and only needs his gut to tell him the Colbert Bump is real. At Juice, we let the data decide what’s real or not, so our apologies to Stephen for not taking his word for it. Intrigued, Juice Analytics set out to find out the truth. We gathered data about Amazon sales rank for 20 authors that appeared on his show in recent months. How did those ranks change in the days immediately before and after the authors’ appearance on the show?

Amazon Sales Rank of Colbert Guests

Hmmm, there might be something there but those sales ranks don’t tell us much. Fortunately for Stephen, some “eggheads” have worked out roughly how Amazon sales rank corresponds to actual book sales. We calculated the sales, and normalized the data so that the week prior to appearing on the Colbert Report was equal to 1.0. Here’s a picture.

Projected Sales of Colbert Guests

That looks like a bump, Conan. In fact, being on the Colbert Report increases sales by 10 times on average. That bump doesn’t last forever, but, let’s face it, what does?

We also wanted to know, what kinds of books are Colbert’s audience going crazy for? After all, Colbert is well known as a rock-solid conservative. He’s tight with the Bush Administration. Even though he debates a few liberal (“pinko”) authors now and then, most of his guests are writers of pop-intellectual studies of the Gladwellian persuasion.

Here are the authors and how we categorized them:

Pinkos: Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, Wesley K. Clark, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country, Robert Shrum, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner

‘Publicans: Tom DeLay, No Retreat, No Surrender: One American’s Fight

Pop Essayists: Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel B. Smith, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination, Michael Gershon, The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine, John J. Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Frank J. Sulloway, Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Richard Preston, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Bjorn Lomberg, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, Michael Wallis, The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate

Popular: Stephen Colbert, I Am America (And So Can You!), John Grisham, Playing For Pizza: A Novel, Tina Brown, The Diana Chronicles

How much of a bump did each of these groups receive?

Colbert Bump by Category of Guests

It’s a shock! Liberals and high-minded eggheads do better than popular or conservative books. I’m not sure if Colbert knows this, but his audience isn’t who he thinks they are.

Here are all the authors and their normalized sales around the time of their appearance on the Colbert Report.


This post was a collaborative effort of the entire Juice team. Pete Skomoroch concocted the idea, wrote copy, and found the study linking Amazon Sales Rank to actual sales. Zach data mined. David May whipped up elegant, instant visualizations. Sal Uryasev munged data.