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TESS VIGELAND: So yesterday I finally tried the latest time-suck craze. I did my first one early in the morning and then about seven more as the day wore on. Didn’t even care if I was a little late to my piano lesson, I had to finish it. It’s this thing called Sudoku. It’s been a year since the puzzle game started to appear in US papers, and it’s pretty much created its own business empire. Marketplace’s Nancy Farghalli reports.
NANCY FARGHALLI: You know you’ve hit it big when the Daily Show makes you a punch line.
[ Daily Show: “What am I saying is the path to peace lies in a newspaper that is 100 pure Sudoku. (Applause)” ]
Or better yet, the path to business success.
Kathy Kerr works for the Universal Press Syndicate. Her company has offered Sudoku since last June. She calls the puzzle’s debut unprecedented. It trounced the launches of popular comic strips like For Better or For Worse and Boondocks.
KATHY KERR: Right, out of the gate it took on half a dozen clients a week and eventually we were signing up about 40 newspapers and online sites monthly. So now we have over 500 newspaper and online points that receive our Sudoku puzzles.
Kerr says when the numbers puzzle lands in a new paper, that paper usually comes out with a story about its popularity.
KERR: I believe that people are seeing the newspapers cover the story itself more and that’s creating the buzz.
It’s a buzz that’s reached the top of the publishing industry. Last year, Sudoku books accounted for seven percent of the bestselling trade list. US consumers bought 5.7 million Sudoku books.
Go overseas and you’ll find similar Sudoku mania. In England, the publisher of a Sudoku magazine sold out the first run in a week. They printed 170,000 more copies of the second issue to meet demand.
Papers in the UK report better circulation figures when the puzzle appears. Michael Levy is a Professor of Marketing at Babson College.
MICAHEL LEVY: Newspapers are having their problems in general and if this is something they can use to get the circulation up and stable, then they’re going to do it
So far, the Newspaper Association of America has not tracked the impact of Sudoku on circulation figures in this country.
But Levy says newspapers are old news. Sudoku is so cheap to produce that other businesses want to cash in.
Thomas Snyder says the market is expanding beyond puzzle hobbyists. Snyder finished second at the first-ever world Sudoku championships in March. He says Sudoku’s success had led to some odd new pairings. Get ready for the next big thing from the Wheel of Fortune host.
THOMAS SNYDER: There’s a Pat Sajak themed Sudoku. What’s that all about? There’s an ESPN book that’s coming out, which sort of now is using baseball positions instead of the numbers one thru nine. What does ESPN and sports have anything to do with the Sudoku?
Not sure, but ESPN does broadcast the spelling bee. Hmmm… makes you wonder: Can televised Sudoku be next?
I’m Nancy Farghalli for Marketplace.
And in Los Angeles, with just three boxes to go, I’m Tess Vigeland. Enjoy your weekend.
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