Amazon has long been criticized in certain publishing circles for the terrible crime of selling books that customers wanted to buy rather than the books the publishing clique wanted to sell.
It used to be that Amazon’s critics used codewords like describing Amazon’s recommendation algorithms as “narrow and inhuman” for not recommending the books that publishers that think are important.
Now the Huffington Post has revealed the new codewords. Today publishers are wringing their hands over the possibility that Amazon “might silence the stories that matter” (to publishers, that is) by using a “data-based approach to bookselling” in its physical bookstores.
For publishers, especially those who support the work of emerging authors, disempowered authors or authors whose voices aren’t in chorus with the mainstream, this data-based approach to bookselling is disconcerting.
Michael Reynolds, the editor-in-chief of Europa Editions, told HuffPost that Amazon’s ratings-based system isn’t conducive to discovering writers like the lyrical, wave-making Elena Ferrante, whom Europa publishes.
“While a new bookstore, any new bookstore, is generally good news, I can’t see how Amazon applying its unsatisfactory recommendation engine to a physical space is going to result in the kind of discovery experience a reader has when she enters any good brick-and-mortar store,” Reynolds said. “It is certainly not going to help with bringing about the kind of bibliodiversity that, with authors like Elena Ferrante, Muriel Barbery, Boualem Sansal and Domenico Starnone, we seek to cultivate, and that I think is more important today than ever.”
Dennis Johnson, the co-publisher of Melville House, agreed. “Things like Tolstoy are going to have lower ratings than the new book by the new YouTube star,” he told HuffPost. “Real literature is slowly not going to be available there.”
Due to Manhattan’s high rents, the new store is far smaller than previous Amazon Books locations. It lacks the chairs and open space found in other locations, and it also stocks fewer titles – 3,000, compared to 5,000 to 6,000 titles in the first Amazon Books in Seattle (the Chicago location carries 3,800 titles).
But in general, the new Amazon Books store is stocked along the exact same lines as the other six locations – its selection is based on what Amazon thinks people will want to buy.
The shelves are not stocked with the books the publishers want to sell, and that is a capital crime in the eyes of elitist publishers.
The publishers are not motivated by anything as venal as a profit motive; no, they are as pure as the driven snow. They merely want to publish important books.
The fact that those books have little relevance outside of Manhattan’s publishing cliques is entirely beside the point.
image by Robbie1