Aligning Popularity and Quality in Online Cultural Markets

Abstract

Social influence is ubiquitous in cultural markets and plays an important role in recommendations for books, songs, and news articles to name only a few. Yet social influence is often presented in a bad light, often because it supposedly increases market unpredictability. Here we study a model of trial-offer markets, in which participants try products and later decide whether to purchase. We consider a simple policy which recovers product quality and ranks the products by quality when presenting them to market participants. We show that, in this setting, market efficiency always benefits from social influence. Moreover, we prove that the market converges almost surely to a monopoly for the product of highest quality, making the market both predictable and asymptotically optimal. Computational experiments confirm that the quality ranking policy quickly identifies "blockbusters", outperforms other policies, and is highly predictable

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