Amazon is 20 years old – and far from bad news for publishers


Simon Rowberry, University of Stirling

It has now been 20 years since Amazon sold its first book: the titillating-sounding Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, by Douglas Hofstadter. Since then publishers have often expressed concern over Amazon. Recent public spates with Hachette and Penguin Random House have heightened the public’s awareness of this fraught relationship.

It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdogs’ status as the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.

Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.

Where to start …
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Democratising data

In Amazon’s early years, Jeff Bezos, the company’s CEO, was keen to avoid stocking books. Instead, he wanted to work as a go-between for customers and wholesalers. Instead of building costly warehouses, Amazon would instead buy books as customers ordered them. This would pass the savings on to the customers. (It wasn’t long, however, until Amazon started building large warehouses to ensure faster delivery times.)

This promise of a large selection of books required a large database of available books for customers to search. Prior to Amazon’s launch, this data was available to those who needed it from Bowker’s Books in Print, an expensive data source run by the people who controlled the International Standardised Book Number (ISBN) standard in the USA.

ISBN was the principle way in which people discovered books, and Bowker controlled this by documenting the availability of published and forthcoming titles. This made them one of the most powerful companies in the publishing industry and also created a division between traditional and self-published books.

Bowker allowed third parties to re-use their information, so Amazon linked this data to their website. Users could now see any book Bowker reported as available. This led to Amazon’s boasts that they had the largest bookstore in the world, despite their lack of inventory in their early years. But many other book retailers had exactly the same potential inventory through access to the same suppliers and Bowker’s Books in Print.

Amazon’s decision to open up the data in Bowker’s Books in Print to customers democratised the ability to discover of books that had previously been locked in to the sales system of physical book stores. And as Amazon’s reputation improved, they soon collected more data than Bowker.

For the first time, users could access data about what publishers had recently released and basic information about forthcoming titles. Even if customers did not buy books from Amazon, they could still access the information. This change benefited publishers as readers who can quickly find information about new books are more likely to buy new books.

Might Amazon’s debilitating effect on local shops be about to change?
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World domination?

As Amazon expanded beyond books, ISBN was no longer the most useful form for recalling information about items they sold. So the company came up with a new version: Amazon Standardized Identifier Numbers (ASINs), Amazon’s equivalent of ISBNs. This allowed customers to shop for books, toys and electronics in one place.

The ASIN is central to any Amazon catalogue record and with Amazon’s expansion into selling eBooks and second hand books, it connects various editions of books. ASINs are the glue that connect eBooks on the Kindle to shared highlights, associated reviews, and second hand print copies on sale. Publishers, and their supporters, can use ASINs as a way of directing customers to relevant titles in new ways.

Will Cookson’s Bookindy is an example of this. The mobile app allows readers to find out if a particular book is available for sale cheaper than Amazon in an independent bookstore nearby. So Amazon’s advantage of being the largest source of book-related information is transformed into a way to build the local economy.

ASINs are primarily useful for finding and purchasing books from within the Amazon bookstore, but this is changing. For example, many self-published eBooks don’t have ISBNs, so Amazon’s data structure can be used to discover current trends in the publishing industry. Amazon’s data allows publishers to track the popularity of books in all forms and shape their future catalogues based on their findings.

While ISBNs will remain the standard for print books, ASIN and Amazon’s large amount of data clearly benefits publishers through increasing their visibility. Amazon have forever altered bookselling and the publishing industry, but this does not mean that its large database cannot be an invaluable resource for publishers who wish to direct customers to new books outside of Amazon.

The Conversation

Simon Rowberry is Lecturer in Communications, Media and Culture at University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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A book for any occasion – the perfect holiday mini library


Andrew Tate, Lancaster University

Hell is not, as Sartre suggested, other people – it’s a holiday without books. Holidays, with their promise of carefree pleasure seeking, might seem like the most materialistic of activities. Yet the name has sacred roots: the holy day suggests a time set apart from the ordinary flow of life.

I can tolerate zigzag queues and disappointing hotel rooms but a lack of literature would ruin my trip. For some of us there is no greater pleasure, or more sacred thing, than the imaginative travel afforded by a good book.

Holiday reading fan.

The great philosopher Blaise Pascal believed that human misfortune was the result of other people’s inability “to sit quietly in one’s room”. I’m not sure where Pascal liked to spend his summer break – Disneyland Paris hadn’t opened its gates in the 1600s – but if forced to leave the tranquillity of his room for adventure and the promise of ice cream, it’s probable that he would have filled his suitcase with literature as well as factor 50. And, if he were to ask for a few suggestions, I might recommend this mini-library of my all-time holiday reading favourites. Take note, if you want a real break on your travels.

First chapter

Clive James’s absurdly funny and sad Unreliable Memoirs (1980) is the first book that I remember reading on a beach. I was 16 and should have been focusing on other things, like the exhilarating surf and real human beings, but this “novel disguised as an autobiography” snagged me and encouraged a lifelong belief that words placed in the right order are a kind of magic.

James’s rites of passage tales of suburban Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s are intense in their specificity, evoking a distant world and way of life. But his askew take on the ritual humiliations and surprising freedoms of childhood are so resonant that they might connect with anybody who remembers what it is to be young, awkward and excessively bookish.

In another world.
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The family saga

This evocation of the idiosyncrasies of family life anticipates the fiction of James’ fellow Australian, Tim Winton. I especially recommend Cloudstreet (1991), now widely regarded as a classic of world literature, which follows the fortunes of two families who are compelled by separate losses to share a house for two decades.

Winton writes with a distinctive lyricism about Western Australia but this is also a compelling family saga of the pious, industrious Lambs and their worldly, fortune-seeking peers, the Pickles. There are few better writers of landscape and this is a visceral narrative full of elemental detail, salty humour and raw feeling.

The page turner

Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London (2011) is likely to prompt less refined reader responses: fear, laughter and the need-to-know-what-happens-next are the big pleasures in the first of a rather Dickensian sequence that blends police procedural with the supernatural.

PC Peter Grant, a rare fictional detective who seems to be perfectly sociable, becomes a kind of wizard’s apprentice in the Met and investigates crimes that leave his peers clueless. The genre term “urban fantasy” may discourage but this is witty, smart contemporary fable that represents a mischievous rewriting of the rules of classic detective fiction.

Donna Tartt wants to know why you haven’t read The Goldfinch yet.
Bas Czerwinski/EPA

The tome

A long break might create space to grapple with one of the big books of our time: Donna Tartt’s ambitious The Goldfinch (2013), which blends art, obsession and the search for home, is perhaps the closest thing to the experience of reading a 19th-century triple-decker published in recent years; it is rich with character, incident, plot twist and, yes, many pages. I found it utterly absorbing and the fact that it isn’t brief is part of the pleasure.

When homesick

Holidays might encourage escape from everyday life but they’re also a good opportunity to reflect on our understanding of home and belonging. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004), is a kind of hymn to the joys of not travelling: John Ames, a minister facing up to mortality, reflects on the ordinary mysteries of life in the titular mid-Western town in a series of letters to his young son.

Robinson, in common with otherwise very different novelists such as John Irving and Stephen King, is brilliant at world building. We might have little in common with a Calvinist minister living in 1950s Iowa but Robinson opens up his particular world in a way that encourages both thought and emotional connection. Gilead offers an alternative take on the velocity (and restlessness) of contemporary Western life.

In her brilliant poem, Questions of Travel (1956), partly inspired by Pascal’s defence of staying put, Elizabeth Bishop asks: “Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?” If you are similarly sceptical about tourism, I recommend this pile of books and the out-of-office reply as an alternative trek into new lands.

The Conversation

Andrew Tate is Reader in English at Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

iOS App: Visual Reading


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the iOS app, ‘Visual Reading.’ This is an app for those kids that are experiencing reading difficulties.

For more visit:
http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2015/07/a-great-app-for-kids-with-reading-difficulties.html