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Amazon Books Detractor: Technology is Bad

One of Amazon’s detractors visited the Amazon Books on Columbus Circle in Manhattan and did not like what he saw:

Bookstores are some of my absolute favorite places. I could spend hours in them. I love grabbing a London Fog (with almond milk!) and checking out the featured sections, then heading for the stacks to be surrounded by all manner of books in the hope that some cover or title will catch my eye and I’ll discover something new. As far as I’m concerned, the stacks are an essential part of the bookstore experience, yet someone seems to have forgotten to tell that to Jeff Bezos.

The Amazon Books in Manhattan was pretty busy on the day when I visited, presumably because more people wanted to see what it was all about. Similar to a regular bookstore, it contains sections that are divided by category, but they’re all quite small, and there aren’t many books on display. Each of the chosen titles faces out to the customer—no stacks, so no spines—with an customer review printed on a card below them. While clearly meant to emulate handwritten bookseller recommendations, the reviews just don’t feel as authentic, especially when you know that each of the titles has been chosen by some algorithm to maximize sales.

According to user reports, the Amazon Books on Columbus Circle is about the size of an airport bookstore. It’s so small that one cannot get lost in the store without innate ability (such as mine).

And yet this person blames Amazon for having a limited selection; apparently he expected Amazon to bend the laws of physics and make the inside of the store larger than the outside (I’m pretty sure if Bezos had a TARDIS he would find a better use for it than running a bookstore in Manhattan).

Reader Dave sent me a link to this story with the note that "If a small bookstore curates their selection, that’s good. If Amazon does it, they destroy discovery."

He’s not wrong, but I think the harping on algorithmic curation is the more important issue.

He’s faulting Amazon for using a more refined version of the same technique that bookstores have used for decades. Barnes & Noble uses algorithms to stock their stores, and the late Borders chain owed its beginnings to the unique stock management system developed by its founders.

And yet now, when Amazon uses tech to curate their bookstore’s selection based on what they think customers will want to buy, suddenly it’s bad?

Since when did trying to give people what they want become a bad thing?

image by Bloomberg

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Karl July 28, 2017 um 8:48 pm

Amazon book stores' policy of shelving books face out rather than spine out presumably reduces the number of different titles (though not the number of books) they can fit on their shelves. And I can sort of see the writer’s point that a little card reading "Josh recommends!" underneath it has a homier feeling than a printed-out review from the website, especially if you’re the sort who would go looking for the store employee with "Josh" on his name tag to ask him about the book.

Allen F July 29, 2017 um 11:33 am

Sounds like they only went to find something to whine about as everyone else has already said these things about Amazon’s bookstores.

Maybe she should shop at Borders – oh wait, B&N killed them off. Too bad B&N is selling candles and towels to throw in rather than books worth buying …

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