## Monday, July 15, 2013

### The Rowling Elasticity

Elasticity is a very useful measure in structural engineering and helps us figure out the strength of materials (e.g. the 'strain' that is used along with Young's modulus). It is also an important idea in economics and price optimization. The price elasticity of demand quantifies the impact of a price change on the demand for an product. The thermal elasticity of electricity load in summer = percentage increase in residential cooling power consumption when outdoor temperature increases by 1%.  Elasticity is a dimensionless quantity = the % change in dependent variable / % change in causal.

Estimating Elasticity
Price elastic items like restaurant meals and airline tickets typically have an elasticity value less than -1.0 so that a 1% reduction in price yields a sales increase of more than 1%. Groceries typically are weakly price elastic in the range (-1, 0). Addictive items are relatively inelastic, while certain brand-image driven high-end luxury products may even have a positive price elasticity. The assumption of constant elasticity (-g) allows us to derive the following sales-lift model:
S = S0(p/p0)-g
where Sis the (expected or observed) sales at price p0. This is a simple and convenient representation that works well for small price changes. It is popular among retail analysts because you get a constant elasticity term (g) that is easy to communicate, which can also be easily estimated using linear regression on historical sales data by taking the logarithm on both sides.

Elasticity of Discrete Causals
Elasticity estimates can be used to gauge customer response and public sensitivity. Price is a continuous variable, but we can also associate elasticity with boolean indicator variables even though we cannot really calculate it's % change. For example, a promotional ad prominently placed in the front-page as opposed to the mid-pages of a weekly store circular may elicit a taller spike in sales. Some Hollywood movies that fly under radar experience huge sales lifts upon being named as an Oscar contender. BoxofficeQuant has an interesting analysis of the sales 'elasticity' of Oscar nominated movies. Statements by influential leaders tend to be relatively more elastic and elicit an heightened public response (e.g. Alan Greenspan in the US, or Narendra Modi in India). Perhaps there's a Matthew effect at work as well - the exact same product that is sold under a different name can be more elastic even though the benefit to the customer is the same. Recently, JK Rowling published a book under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Upon the discovery of this name change, Amazon sales of the book rose spectacularly: The magnitude of the short-term sales 'elasticity' of her famous name at Amazon.com was estimated at more than half a million.