The Morning Coffee – 4 March 2014

Top stories this morning include's latest foaming at the mouth rant about Amazon (link), a look at a library's circulation policies (link),  Oyster Books disrupting Amazon (link), the SC state legislature retaliating against a college for their curriculum choices (link), and more.

  • Amazon buried my novel: Those search algorithms are for sale (
  • The DMCA Takedown of a Feynman Lectures eBook Converter (Go To Hellman)
  • H&S targets commuters with erotic serial (The Bookseller)
  • Is There Anything More Slow-moving than a Publisher? (The Scholarly Kitchen)
  • L.A. kids can’t read a Warren Buffett bio at their school library—because it’s shut down (LibraryCity)
  • Oyster Books: Disrupting the disruptor, by Joe Wikert (Olive Software)
  • South Carolina legislature confiscates budget of college for assigning Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" (Boing Boing)
  • What it Takes to Get a Library Book Removed from Circulation (TeleRead)

About Nate Hoffelder (11464 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

9 Comments on The Morning Coffee – 4 March 2014

  1. Boy, that Salon “essay” is bad! A new author is appalled– horrified– that Amazon slants it search results based on publishers’ fees. He’s going to visit his local bookstore in indignation. Well, guess what? Bookstores accept money from publishers to put up posters and displays and end-cap books. It’s called “co-op” money. It’s hard to believe he could get a book published and now so little about the process of selling books. And if he cared so much about what books show up in search results, the time to worry about that is BEFORE he sent the book to his editor.

    • “He’s going to visit his local bookstore in indignation.”

      LOL I had missed that; TBH my mind had been blown by the first few paragraphs. She thought her book would be listed high in the results months before it is published? Really?

  2. I don’t think the Salon article by Stephan Eirik Clark is “foaming at the mouth” about Amazon. It’s by an author whose book at first didn’t come up in the Amazon search results. Later it came up in the company of some inappropriate results, and some time later it began coming up among more appropriate hits.

    He pointed to a paragraph in a summary of Packer’s article about Amazon, which explained that Amazon search results were partly determined by payments made by publishers to Amazon.

    In the 50s, there was something similar. DJs were bribed by record companies to play their records. It was a big deal – the Payola Scandal.

    Now I guess such paid favoritism is legal, or people don’t care that much. O tempora O mores, as Cicero wrote.

    In any case, the article points up the fact that Amazon is not an objective broker. In the long run, practices like this lead to lack of trust and suspicion.

    Understandably, authors are going to be paranoid – because the fate of “their babies” is in the hands of a faceless corporation. Whether it’s just an inefficient algorithm or it’s payola, authors will be suspicious.

    And readers should be wary of this sort of favoritism on the part of Amazon too, in particular because they are headed towards a monopoly on e-books in the U.S.

    • It has absolutely zero evidence to support the accusation which, simply on the face of it, is ridiculous. A title which is not available doesn’t show up high in search results, and that’s supposed to be a sign of nefarious misdeeds by Amazon? Really?

      Also, co-op fees are pretty common in publishing, but in that piece only Amazon is singled out as being evil. If this isn’t a sign of Amazon derangement syndrome I don’t know what is.

      • Nate, I don’t see why the accusation is ridiculous. The search mechanism is a black box, and it’s probably impossible for outsiders to understand what exactly affected the placement of results. It’s true that the author had no evidence that money had affected the placement, but he didn’t claim he did. He pointed out

        1) His search results changed dramatically

        2) Amazon apparently takes payment from publishers to determine placement of search results.

        As you know, Amazon is very secretive (this was confirmed to me by a tech journalist up in Seattle). If people are paranoid about its operations, it is only natural. In contrast to Google, Amazon apparently makes no claim to fairness or objectivity in its search results.

        If Amazon were only one of many viable competitors, all this would probably make no difference. However, Amazon is aiming to be a monopoly supplier and because of its ruthlessness and efficiency it is well on its way. Monopolies are held to a higher standard than other companies, since we have little recourse to other suppliers.

        Below are the relevant quotes from Packer’s article in the New Yorker about Amazon:

        “Book retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, negotiate “co-op,” or coöperative promotional fees, from publishers in exchange for prominent product placement. It’s a way for a retailer to get a larger discount without violating the 1936 Robinson-Patman Act, which prohibits producers from offering price advantages to favored retailers. Although co-op fees weren’t “dreamed up by Amazon,” Marcus told me, “Amazon proved to be particularly good at squeezing this money out of publishers.”

        “(Few customers realize that the results generated by Amazon’s search engine are partly determined by promotional fees.)”


  3. A counter example is Google’s policy of “Strict Separation of Ads and Search Results ” They write:

    “Although everyone now expects advertisements to be differentiated from organic search results, when Google was founded search engines routinely allowed websites to pay for inclusion in search results. At Google, we made it a key principle to never accept payment to improve rankings.”

  4. Just another author venting on Salon. Also, just another author added to my never to buy list.

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