How Amazon Has Made Book Searches Less Useful

Time was, you could search for obscure books on Amazon and find them easily. Back in the day, before eBooks and print-on-demand (PoD) books, the number of search results was more limited, and it was easier to find what you’re looking for. In recent times, however, Amazon has ruined their book search results by trying to give too much.

This isn’t a problem if you’re looking for, say Stephen King. This search helps you find his latest novel pretty quickly.

But if you’re looking for more obscure books – especially books in the public domain – you are presented with a confusing list of hundreds, even thousands of books, and it’s very hard to sort them.

Look at this search for Ralph Waldo Emerson. The first book that displays is a PoD book. Next comes a link to a page about the author, followed by a Kindle edition of Nature. (Your search results may vary, and Amazon searches change regularly according to what is sold.)

Scrolling down, only a handful of print books – real print books, not PoD books at exorbitant prices display. Now, it’s easy to choose to only view, say, paperbacks, by clicking in the Format menu in the left sidebar. But you can only choose one format; you can’t choose to look at, say, paperbacks and hardcovers. In addition, you can’t filter out PoD books. No matter how you search, they will pollute your results. Of course, since Amazon owns CreateSpace – a PoD production company – it’s in their interest to tout these books.

For some subjects, languages can get in the way. Amazon.com sells books in many languages – though they seem to have more in the major Romance languages – and you’ll find them in your search results. You can, at least, choose a specific language for your search, again in the sidebar.

Add to this confusion the fact that Amazon applies reader reviews to any edition of a specific book. So, Emerson’s Essays: First Series, which shows at the top of the list in my search, includes reviews that are not necessarily written about the specific edition you are looking at.

Amazon is very efficient at selling multiple versions of public domain books, but they sell so many now that readers can be flustered when searching for them. Since the search results don’t take into account the actual worth of the books – editions from reputable publisher, for example – the dreck floats to the top of the list. It’s time for Amazon to improve searching, so users can filter out all of that, and find the books worth buying. And they need to stop favoring their own CreateSpace books, which is an anti-competitive practice.

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5 replies
  1. Michael Wenyon says:

    Electronic library catalogs have always had a similar problem of throwing up a confusing array of multiple historical editions in various locations. You may be tempted to request the edition with many holds on it when, in fact, another entry in the list with fewer holds is an identical copy, listed separately simply because of some variation in how the two were originally cataloged. But it is hard to tell. Interesting to note that Amazon is now also suffering from its expansion in choices.

    Reply
  2. Mark says:

    if you’re searching for out of print or obscure titles use abe.com. They have much better filtering capabilities – though you still get some PoD pollution…

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      Same problem on Abebooks and Alibris. They all have tons of PoD books, and you can’t filter them out.

      Reply
      • Mark says:

        No where near as bad as you. Can filter on dust jacket, first edition,… Which generally kills off the PoDs

        Reply

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