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.
Posted: 6/25/2012 by kirk | Filed under: books Tags: Amazon, books, Emerson | 5 Comments »
We all know it happens; companies and authors post bogus reviews of their products and books on Amazon. Generally, this is not a big deal, but there are times when it’s obvious that a concerted effort has been made to submit a number of 5-star reviews to make an item look better than it is, or at least to get more attention.
It started with last night’s Daily SHow, where the guest was one Edward Conard, former partner at Bain Capital, and author of Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong. As is sometimes the case with wonky subjects, Jon Stewart had the interview continue after the show, and the entire interview is available on the web; some 40 minutes. I found Conard interesting; while I don’t agree with a lot of what he said, at least he was trying to explain some of his opinions on the economy from the point of view of a member of the 1%.
So I went to Amazon to look at the book, and saw there were many 5-star reviews. When I read them, however, they all had the same vapid, vague contents, that said the book was good, but without saying very much. If you run a blog, you certainly see this type of comment spam; comments that are designed just to create user accounts, while saying nothing of substance, but being vague enough so that you might think they are real. These reviews were similar. Here’s one example:
You can’t always believe what you hear on the news. Unintended Consequences confirms this by supplying the type of wisdom needed when it comes to the economy. It is a remarkable view of what has happened to get us to this point, and where we go from here.
I found Unintended Consequences to be a challenging look at the current opinion of America’s financial crisis. There are some very interesting views on how we arrived at this point, and they are bound cause a stir. Whether you agree with these view or not, they are going to get people talking!
These reviews could be blurbs on the book’s jacket. They say nothing substantial, and are clearly just fluff.
Looking further – clicking the “See all my reviews” links for some of the authors – I saw how all of these people had only ever written one or two reviews, all equally vague, and all around the same date.
So for this book, the publisher – Portfolio Books, an imprint of Penguin – didn’t want to let the market do its thing. No, they wanted to game the system, just like this author probably did in has work with Bain Capital. I certainly hope that Amazon will do something about these reviews.
As it turns out, Mr. Conard lives up to his name. (At least, what that name means in French, with a double n. I’ll let my readers look that up.)
Posted: 6/8/2012 by kirk | Filed under: books, Miscellanea Tags: Amazon, books | 3 Comments »
One of the main reasons I wanted to buy Apple’s iPad is to use the device as an ebook reader. I’m a big reader, and have thousands of books, but would like to be able to read some books on a portable device. Aside from any discussion of the merits of this, I thought I would look at the two main apps for reading ebooks, Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks. (I’m leaving aside the many other apps that allow you to read free ebooks, or those which offer limited catalogs. I’m just looking at the two that let you read the broadest selection. And I won’t discuss selection here either, because the iPad is too new to have the selection that Amazon offers.)
First, Amazon currently has the edge in device ubiquity, with a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as for the iPad. Apple’s iBooks will, however, be available for these devices in the fall, when the company releases a new version of their software. Amazon also, however, lets you read ebooks on their own device – the Kindle – or on a Mac or PC, with a program that that works on those platforms. Apple will presumably follow suit, with a Mac version of iBooks in the fall, and perhaps even a Windows version.
But the main question remains that of display. Reading an ebook, you want the broadest range of display options, so you can get the maximum reading pleasure from the books you buy.
Posted: 4/11/2010 by kirk | Filed under: books, iPad Tags: Amazon, Apple, ebooks, iPad, Kindle | 8 Comments »
Let’s begin with the Kindle app. Display looks more rudimentary with the Kindle, and layout of many books is not ideal, with improper paragraph spacing and widows and orphans (paragraphs display just a single line at the beginning or end of a page). Here are two examples of the same page of a book, showing both portrait and landscape view:
Several things stand out: first, the image looks somewhat dark and grayish, rather like it does on a standalone Kindle device. The actual image on screen looks brighter, but there is a gradient that fades away toward the edges. Second, the layout is stark, utilitarian, and doesn’t look like a “book”. This is not a bad thing, actually, as there are no extraneous filigrees to distract you. When you change pages, they just wipe from one side to the other. Also, Amazon’s landscape view displays a rather wide page, which cannot be adjusted. In some cases, the lines are too long to read comfortably, and I would rather be able to set the margins in that view to keep them narrower.
With the Kindle, you have limited options to change the display. You can change the font size, but only to five sizes, and you can change the color of the display: black fonts on a white background, white fonts on a black background, and sepia fonts on a beige background. The latter is nice, but the fonts aren’t dark enough, and they fade into the background. You can also change the brightness from the application, while you’re reading, to adapt to your current ambient lighting conditions.
Now let’s see how Apple does it with iBooks. Here are two examples of a book page:
The first thing that strikes you is the book metaphor: the pages and shadows that try to give you the impression that you’re reading something other than an ebook. I don’t see this as being essential, and in fact it is a bit distracting. There is a toolbar at the top of the page, and a progress bar at the bottom. You can tap in the center of the page to make these go away, leaving just the title of the book at the top, and a page counter (ie, 10 of 252) at the bottom. In addition, in landscape view, the book shows two “pages”. Again, this looks more like a book, and solves the problem of the Kindle’s wide pages, but this makes for very narrow lines. I don’t find this very readable.
But overall, Apple’s iBooks provides more options for displaying text. Apple gives you ten font sizes, from tiny to huge, and lets you choose from five fonts (Amazon imposes their font). As with the Kindle, you can adjust brightness with a slider. However, you cannot change the color of the page or the font. Apple continues with their book metaphor when you change pages. You can tap and drag a page, and watch a very detailed animation of a page-turn, at whatever speed you want. You can also just tap on the left or right of a page to have it “turn” with a sort of animated wipe. This eye candy is attractive at first, but the “wow” factor quickly gets stale.
Overall, I prefer the iBooks display, mainly for the ability to choose a font and a more precise size. I wish the toolbar would go away, or that there were an option to display it or not. I think different display colors could be useful, if the user is allowed to choose them, rather than just select from the three presets that Amazon offers. I don’t find the page turning animation useful, other than to show of the iPad’s abilities. Both apps display text crisply, because of the iPad’s screen, making reading quite easy.
In the end, the decision to buy a book from one or another will be, in part, fueled by a book’s availability (Amazon has far more books than Apple). But given the choice, at the same price, I’d choose to buy books for iBooks, because the reading experience is more flexible, and the display of text more attractive.
Amazon.fr is having their spring sale. They’ve got a few big box sets on sale, sets which are out of print in the US.
Yo-Yo Ma: 30 Years Outside The Box for 300 euros. This set listed at 552 euros, and is on sale at 46% off. It’s out of print in the US, and shipping to the US is not expensive; in addition, Amazon takes off the 19.6% VAT.
The Beatles stereo set, for 130 euros, and The Beatles mono set, for 110 euros. The stereo set is out of print in the US, and the mono set is much more expensive.
Personally, I don’t care for Yo-Yo Ma that much to want to buy his set, but I may go for the Beatles’ stereo set.
Posted: 3/28/2010 by kirk | Filed under: music Tags: Amazon, music | 2 Comments »