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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big Three Publishers Come at Amazon with a New Retailing Site

Posted by on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 12:32 PM

It has been years in the making, but is finally live. It's a site backed by the big three publishers (Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) that's supposed to be an exceptional book recommendation engine first and a book retailer second. So to test the recommendation engine, I applied a modified version of the Elkin Test, which is how I determine whether a bookstore is any good. Here's what Bookish responded with:

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That's a pretty straightforward list of experimental and highly literary writers, but I do like those four authors quite a bit. It's a short list, and it's kind of obvious, but it does the job. So let's compare how the same book works on the competition: Amazon's recommendation engine is based on what other people who bought the Elkin book also bought.

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You'll notice that the vast majority of the books are other titles by Stanley Elkin. This is informative, but not especially helpful so far as recommendations go. But the "also bought" premise does allow for some interesting jumps. There are a few good suggestions in there—Christina Stead, David Foster Wallace—that a recommendation engine wouldn't necessarily manage to connect on its own. So they're both successful, but flawed in their own way.

The thing is, I don't really see how Bookish becomes anything more than a momentary distraction. I don't generally hear people complaining about Amazon's recommendation system, and those who do find it to be insufficient go to booksellers and librarians for recommendations. Unless Bookish can offer something vastly different, there's no reason for anyone to abandon their usual recommendation sources for it.


Comments (8) RSS

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@ Paul Which Elkin novel would you suggest for a start into his
Posted by xcowardx on February 5, 2013 at 1:42 PM · Report this
Fnarf 2
Amazon's recommendation system gets better the fewer books by the same author there are, because it will always recommend those first. When I'm prowling, I tend to use the "friend of a friend" approach -- pick the most promising Book B from Book A's recommendations, and look for a recommendation for B. But I've found far better suggestions, in history at least, from outside sources -- a lot of smarter people than me have created booklists.

The only book on the short list of titles I checked for prices where Bookish was able to match Amazon was a brand-new small press item, "This Is What We Do" by local Seattle writer Tom Hansen. Not of the others were even particularly close; for instance, "Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the US, 1861-1865" by James Oakes is $17.82 on Amazon, $24.18 on Bookish.

Bookish also doesn't address the problem of keeping local bookstores alive, which is another way of saying "keeping local neighborhoods alive", as retail continues to disappear forever from our streets.
Posted by Fnarf on February 5, 2013 at 1:45 PM · Report this
evilvolus 3
I'm still a big fan of for recommendations.
Posted by evilvolus on February 5, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 4
Well they have a nice price on Child 44 which I"m reading now (highly recommended if a 20th century Crime and Punishment is your bag) and it's value priced at $2.99 same as I bought it for at Amazon.…

It reads with an app useable on any Android device which means I can't use my Kindle or Windows PC however.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 5, 2013 at 2:30 PM · Report this
Wicked Virgin 5
I welcome any serious challenger to Amazon. Selling ebooks in their own format and making e-readers that don't accept the standard ePub format is a horrible practice. Amazon is one of the few companies that didn't need to do any of that. And yes, yes, I know how easy it is to convert formats and such. If Amazon sold their digital books the same way they sold their digital music - DRM-free and in a standard format - I would be evangelising them, but as it stands, I think it's insane to purchase ebooks through them, no matter how cheap and convenient it is.
Posted by Wicked Virgin on February 5, 2013 at 4:11 PM · Report this
Note that most of the publishers required all ebook sales to be DRM'd. You can't lay that one solely at the feet of Amazon.
Posted by Morven on February 5, 2013 at 6:52 PM · Report this
Competition in Amerika??????

Very, very difficult for one to believe . . . .
Posted by sgt_doom on February 6, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Report this
MattBriggs 8
Actually Amazon encourages publishers not to DRM their books. It is the publishers who cling to DRM. The issue online isn't selling books but discovering books. I like LibraryThing and GoodReads, but I can't say that I have actually found books using those sites. I've found books using the recommendation engine, but typically it a kind of multi-factorial thing where I hear about book a number of times in various ways. Bookstores still tend to be a retail space where I will purchase books. Does anyone know of a study about how people learn about books they want to read?
Posted by MattBriggs on February 6, 2013 at 1:39 PM · Report this

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