LSAT 92 – Section 1 – Question 25

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Type Tags Answer
Curve Question
PT92 S1 Q25
Weaken +Weak
+Harder 147.037 +SubsectionMedium

This is a Weaken question.

This argument starts with a hypothesis-conclusion. We are supposed to believe that the rise of mega-bookstores in the 90s increased sales of bestsellers but decreased sales of literary books. Why should we believe this? The remaining three sentences are the premises. First we learned that in 1986, best-selling hardcovers accounted for 7% of all hardcover sales, but by 1996, 10 years later, best-selling hardcovers accounted for 14% of all hardcover sales. If the conclusion rested solely on this premise, then the argument would be pretty weak because surely there are alternative explanations. This premise only establishes that the mega-bookstores coincided with this change in proportion of best-selling hardcovers.

And so the argument continues with another premise that attempts to explain how the mega-bookstores caused this change. It says that mega-bookstores can offer deeper discounts than independent bookstores and that they offer their biggest discounts on best-selling hardcovers, which encourages their sales at the expense of literary works.

At this point, you might be thinking about two seemingly different considerations, one about alternative hypotheses since even with the final premise being true, there still exists alternative explanations for the data. The other consideration comes from recognizing that there is a part to whole or subset to superset assumption present.

Correct Answer Choice (C) reveals that these two seemingly different considerations both arise from the same issue. Let’s start with the perhaps more obvious consideration of part to whole. You may have noticed that the premises only talk about hardcover book sales whereas the conclusion talks about all book sales. And so (C) says in the 90s, the literary works increasingly had their initial publication in paperback editions rather than hardcover editions. That means the data in the premises about hardcovers isn't the whole story. Even if it's true that mega-bookstores encouraged more best-selling hardcovers at the expense of literary hardcovers, and even if it’s true that that strategy is what accounts for the 7% doubling to 14%, we’re still only talking about hardcovers. The conclusion could still be false, meaning literary books could have been selling just fine. People were simply purchasing paperback literary works.

And this leads to the alternative hypothesis. One way of explaining the phenomenon described in the 10-year period between 1986 and 1996, that is, the doubling of best-selling hardcovers from 7% to 14%, is the account offered in the conclusion, that the rise of mega-bookstores increased sales of bestsellers at the expense of literary books. But that's not the only story you can tell. Another hypothesis to account for the increasing share of hardcover bestsellers is simply that the non-bestsellers (the literary books) stopped publishing in hardcover. If that's the case, then everything the premises offer can still be true, the statistic is still what it is, it's still true that mega-bookstores offer big discounts on best-selling hardcovers, which encourages their sales and discourages other hardcovers, but now we no longer believe that sales of literary works overall suffered, because, again, what happened in hardcover isn’t the whole story.

Answer Choice (A) says bookstore customers are more likely to purchase a book that they have seen on a bestseller list than one that they have not. (A) reveals the causal effect of being on a bestseller list. It causes people to buy the book. But it's not clear how this is relevant to the argument. Surely the argument already assumed this. In fact, what would a “bestseller” be if not a book that appeared on bestsellers' lists?

Answer Choice (B) says in the 90s, bookstore customers' most frequent purchases were books written by authors who had already written at least one bestseller. Like (A), it's not clear how this is relevant. The argument never assumed that bookstore customers' most frequent purchases were by obscure authors. So pointing out that they weren’t doesn’t harm the argument.

Answer Choice (D) says by 1996 there were about 20% more titles in print than in 1986. So in other words, in the 10 years that passed, if we imagine the number of titles in print to represent an entire pie, then the whole pie got 20% bigger. But the premise already reported data as a proportion, that is to say, as a slice. In 1986, bestsellers accounted for a 7% slice of the whole pie. 10 years later, bestsellers accounted for 14% of the whole but larger pie. So, if 10 years ago, I gave you a 7% slice of a pizza pie and then 10 years later, I gave you a 14% slice of another same-sized pizza pie, then you’d have exactly twice as much pie. But if the second pizza pie was larger than the first, then you’re getting more than twice as much pie.

So, as much fun as it might be to think about getting more pizza, it doesn’t have any bearing on the argument. How is this supposed to affect the reasoning? And by the way, (D) talks about overall titles in print whereas the stimulus reported only statistics from hardcover titles, which is merely a subset of the total titles. In other words, the stimulus only talked about a subset of the whole pie.

Answer Choice (E) says books that are not expected to be bestsellers are featured more often in independent bookstores than in mega-bookstores. What are we supposed to do with this information? If anything, this information is consistent with the argument. The author already told us that mega-bookstores can offer deep discounts on bestsellers which encourage their sales at the expense of literary books.

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