Friday, July 19, 2013

Can Amazon really shoot itself in the foot?

I had read this idea before, that Amazon, by killing off its competition, would harm itself by destroying the discovery engines that help it somewhat. Here is an article at Salon talking about just that. Still, it does make an interesting point. From the article, 

 "According to survey research by the Codex Group, roughly 60 percent of book sales — print and digital — now occur online. But buyers first discover their books online only about 17 percent of the time. Internet booksellers specifically, including Amazon, account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Where do readers learn about the titles they end up adding to the cart on Amazon? In many cases, at bookstores." 

So, in an ironic twist, I guess, the (somewhat encouraged by Amazon) practice of "showrooming" does help them, so if it kills the "show rooms..." well, you get the idea. Not that I have a very nice opinion of people who "show room," especially if they then whine "my local bookstore is closing." Now you can get all high and mighty about saving money, how one should go with the cheaper option (a declaration certainly open to debate), convenience, etc. However, if you do that, you can't complain then when the local bookstores close down. You caused that plain and simple by "showrooming" instead of supporting your local economy in favor on a commercial behemoth that engages in various unethical and unfair business practices. Always fascinates me how Americans, who by and large give lip service to things like "a level playing field" and "fair and equal opportunities" are more than happy to simply go along with el cheapo no matter the damage. 

By the way, you know another place where you can discover good books to read? Your local library, especially public libraries. What will you find there? Glad you asked:
  • Books in print and very often also electronic. Now, we can grant that e-book access can vary widely from public library to public library. We can also acknowledge that publishers hate libraries lending e-books and pretty much obstruct the practice as much as possible. However, that aside, odds are good your library has offerings that you can read on your e-book reader or tablet computer. Check them out. I can speak from personal experience that I have tried out some of the e-books my local public library offers (via Overdrive in our case, which they get as part of a state consortial deal), and I have been pleasantly satisfied. 
  • Readers' advisory. You need some suggestions and ideas on what to read next? Would you like to talk to someone who reads, knows books, and can make recommendations based on what you like to read or would like to discover? Public librarians (and some academic ones like me) are trained in doing just that. We call it readers' advisory. So, you've read 50 Shades of Grey, and you want more books like it (or better than that book)? Ask your local librarian to give you some recommendations. You zipped through Game of Thrones and now need your next fantasy fix? Your local librarian can probably recommend a thing or two. Readers' advisors make it their business to know about good books so they can make helpful suggestions. Go ahead and give them a try. 
  • Libraries often take advantage of social media when it comes to recommending books. From using Facebook and Twitter to having a presence in places like GoodReads, libraries draw on these powerful tools to help you discover your next read. Also, many librarians use social media as individuals, often doing readers' advisory online as well. In addition, many fine librarians out there keep blogs where they review books and give suggestions. Give them a try as well. 
  • One more thing. Libraries are community spaces. Odds are good  you may meet other people there who are readers just like you. The surveys do say that a lot of people, if not most, get their reading recommendations from acquaintances, friends, so on. Library is a good place to meet some of those friends. 
  • Let us be honest. At the end of the day, a librarian well versed in readers' advisory can give you better recommendations and advice than any algorithm that Amazon tries to come up with. 
In the end, if they shoot themselves in the foot, it may be a flesh wound at best. I don't think Amazon is going to die because every bookstore closes. Granted, such a scenario would be a seriously gruesome future. But if that were to happen, discovery would certainly suffer to a degree. Only thing I would hope for is that Amazon does not really decide to come after libraries as well. 


Gumbywan said...

Don't you think social media sites like GoodReads, BookLikes etc. are just going to take the place of the browsing experience? I trust my fellow "friends" and those I follow just as much or more than some stranger I would meet in a bookstore. No matter how we wring our hands hypothesize about ways to save them, the brick and mortar bookstore, except for mainly specialty genre shops, are going away.

Angel Rivera said...

Hey Gumbywan, glad you made it over here. That is a very interesting question. My concern over GR is Amazon's buyout. How long before they begin to interfere or meddle with reviews and other elements of the site? Amazon review are notorious for being "gamed." I am already hearing, in a very anecdotal way, that GR reviews may be starting to get "gamed." But I think it is still early. I did look up to GR before the buyout. Now, I am a bit more skeptical.

BookLikes I am starting to warm up to. I think it has a lot of potential to become that place where fellow readers, be they your friends offline or online, come together to share those ideas.

I think the big stores will fall. B&N probably has their days numbered. Others like Powell's might survive in large part due to their good reputations. The ones that will make it will be the small independents if they manage to build good relationships in their communities.

Best, and keep on blogging.