October 19, 2005

Sodoku craze adds up to book sales

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Sudoku is adding up to big sales for
book publishers, who are pushing out more new titles ahead of
Christmas in case the number puzzle mania fizzles out.

In Britain alone, more than two million sudoku-related
books have been sold since the Times newspaper first introduced
the addictive puzzle to readers just last year.

At one point earlier this year, six of the country's top 10
nonfiction bestsellers were sudoku books, and if publishers'
predictions are correct, it could happen again as shoppers
stuff Christmas stockings with sudoku.

"I think it's only going to go up until Christmas," said
Ruth Shippobotham, foreign sales executive for Michael O'Mara
Books Ltd., which publishes five sudoku books, two of them
designed for children.

"We don't know how far it'll go after that," she added on
Wednesday at the Frankfurt Book Fair. "But it's constantly
surprised us up until now."

Sudoku (or Su Doku) requires filling in a 9x9-square grid
so that each column, row and nine smaller 3x3 grid contains the
digits 1 through 9. It requires no mathematical skill, and
eliminates the language barriers created by other puzzles.

Britain's Times newspaper was the first to publish a sudoku
last November after a retired New Zealand judge, Wayne Gould,
called to tell features editor Michael Harvey what he had
discovered during a trip to Japan.

A few months later, the Times became the first paper to
come out with a sudoku book. Gould, who compiles the
Times-branded books, also now supplies newspapers around the
world with free grids to promote the software he designed that
churns them out.


The Times' publisher, HarperCollins, still accounts for
about 43 percent of British sudoku book sales despite fierce
competition, including from rival newspapers The Independent,
the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and others.

Amazon.com lists more than 100 sudoku titles on both its
American and British sites and many rank in the top 500

"The craze definitely has not died off as quickly as we'd
feared it might," said Ben Siegle, manager for Guardian Books,
which has sold some 22,000 sudoku books, Nielsen data show.

"I think the reason it's been so successful is because it's
so accessible," he said.

Publishers are trying to differentiate themselves on the
overflowing puzzle-book shelves. Some hawk more sudoko grids
for a cheaper price while others tout hand-crafted grids from
Japan, which designers claim have a more nuanced feel for
solvers than the computer-generated ones.

Killer sudoku, which requires some mathematical
calculations to complete, is coming out in book form too.

Next-generation variations will sustain the buzz for a
while, but it is sudoku's simplicity that could help make it a
publishing mainstay like its cousin the crossword.

"Crosswords were a mania in the 1920s when the first books
appeared and a lot of people thought they would come and go,"
New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz said.

"But, unlike mah jong and other trends of the 1920s,
crosswords attracted a core popularity," Shortz told Business
Life magazine. "I think it will be the same with sudoku."