Amazon has long touted the online book community Shelfari as a site where members can assemble virtual bookshelves, contribute details, and generally be bookish. While this is all true, Amazon is also hiding a number of secrets on the site.
Earlier this week I learned that at least one of Shelfari’s members isn’t a person; it’s collection of computer programs and it has been quietly adding book details for some years now. But more importantly, that collection of computer programs is now adding details to ebooks because those ebooks are selling well in the Kindle Store.
Tell me, have you spent time on Shelfari? Members of that site probably already know this, but it was only this week that I learned that Shelfari will let you see the activity of active users. You can see the ebooks they have on their virtual bookshelves, comments, and you can even see the data that they have added to book descriptions.
Take this member, for example. The user X-Ray/Shelfari is credited with adding an incredible amount of information to various book descriptions, including:
- 900 thousand character names,
- 700 thousand location/settings,
- 491 thousand first sentences, and
- 4.8 million author and contributor entries.
And that’s just a tithe of what X-Ray has been doing.
Now, some might say that all this data was added by Shelfari employees, and that is true for some details, yes. The book summaries might have been written by a person, and I can certainly detect the presence of a real person signing off on some edits, but a lot of the edits were generated automatically. There’s the 2.7 million edits where duplicate book pages were combined, or the 3.3 million changes to the Dewey Decimal classifications of various books. While these edits might need the approval of a real person, it is a near certainty that they were suggested automatically.
And those aren’t the only book details that are added automatically.
I was tipped to this story by an author I know, Carmen Webster Buxton. She is a member of Shelfari, and a couple days ago she got an email notification that several dozen character details had been added to the listing of one of her books (scroll down). The details added to her book were all character names, without any other info or explanation, and they were all added in a single clump by the user X-Ray.
Now, Shelfari has been automatically adding details like this since at least 2010, so at first glance today’s news isn’t much in the way of news. But have you considered why this ebook was X-Rayed?
Carmen thinks, and I have to say that I agree, that this particular book was X-Rayed by Shelfari (that’s what we’re calling it) because it was seeing a fair amount of activity in the Kindle Store. Karen tells me that The Sixth Discipline has been downloaded 14 thousand times in May alone, and we are pretty sure that is what triggered the X-Ray.
Amazon is now using the sales data from the Kindle Store to select which KDP titles are X-Rayed by Shelfari. The Kindle Store is also lending a copy of the ebook so it can be X-Rayed, and the resulting data is then fed back into the Kindle Store so it can be used in the X-Ray feature which Amazon launched in late 2011 (that is what happened with Carmen’s book). This is now a closed loop whose only outside influences are sales stats from the Kindle Store.
There is a synergy here that is both obvious and elegant once it is explained, but it’s also an idea that only Amazon thought to implement. And that, in case you were wondering, is why they are winning the ebook market.
If you are an author who is selling ebooks through KDP, it might be a good idea to check to see if your more successful titles have been X-Rayed by Shelfari. There’s a good chance this has been going on for a while now, and you might want to check to make sure it didn’t make a mistake.
Has anyone encountered this X-Rayed by Shelfari feature?