Home » Amazon, Bookstores, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » The Absence Of Serendipity, Or, Why I Hate Shopping At Amazon

The Absence Of Serendipity, Or, Why I Hate Shopping At Amazon

22 November 2013

From Forbes blogs:

As regular readers will know there’s little in the standard worldview of the Guardian that interests me (and as a disclosure, the newspaper only ever hires me to write for it when it is going to be fun popping some ideological bubbles among its readers) but there’s a piece there today that neatly captures something that does indeed worry me. Or if you prefer, describes why I entirely hate shopping for books on Amazon.

Bronwen Clune is talking about the way in which various modern technologies determine what we already like: but this then reduces our exposure to things we don’t know about and thus reduces the role of serendipity in exposing us to new things that we might like:

Tracking, data mining and collaborative filtering are now the way things are done. There is little room left for the art of finding something good by accident, or stumbling upon something useful while not searching for it. We shouldn’t underplay this, as luck and serendipity have long played a role in science when it’s come to discoveries; penicillin, radioactivity and gravity to name a few. What role could technology play in reducing these accidents from our lives? If we’re only ever exposed to what has been determined to appeal to us, we reduce the chances of these accidental discoveries. This can be from the personal to things of larger consequence. Put simply, the more our data is used to determine our needs and desires, the less chance there is for serendipity.

. . . .

Which brings me to Amazon. I do indeed like it if I know what it is that I want to buy. Various bits and pieces of electronics have been purchased over the years. But I find it an intensely irritating way to buy a book. Cheap, yes, convenient, most assuredly, but intensely irritating. For I’m almost never going out to buy a book that I know that I want to read. I am, rather, browsing to try and find one that I do want to read. And that is something fueled almost entirely by serendipity and in my case it’s what makes second hand bookshops near to nirvana. Being able to flip through the first couple of pages of twenty to forty books, spotting the pile of mouldering 50s sci-fi pulps, shying from the radioactive evil of the chick lit shelves, it is this browsing that has done more to introduce me to new and interesting authors and or genres than anything else. And try as I might I cannot gain that same experience from Amazon, the recommendation engine (at least the level of my knowledge about the actual use of computers) doesn’t manage to replicate that experience.

No doubt this is all terribly luddite of me and I’m sure the cool kids have managed to work it all out.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

PG says there is no doubt that some people enjoy wandering around bookstores or other retail establishments as a recreational pursuit, a way of wiling away an hour or two. PG has certainly done this in the past and will undoubtedly find an opportunity to do so in the future.

However, as the author suggests, PG thinks this is a generational thing (and also observes that the publishing business seems to attract Luddites in droves). Does anyone bemoan the lack of a physical phone or tablet app store and complain there’s no serendipity in app discovery? If you come of age with Amazon, a bookstore is likely to seem a bit archaic and not all that interesting.

In an Amazon world, particularly with free Prime shipping, the idea of a shopping trip begins to feel inefficient. If you think of something you need, just pull up Amazon and order it, then get on with more important things in your life. PG routinely orders all sorts of non-book things from Amazon that he formerly bought at various retail stores.

If you hear about an interesting book (or, more likely, read about one online), why worry about making a mental note to look for it out the next time you visit a bookstore? Just download the sample and check it out at your next break. Watching TV and see someone talking about an interesting book? Pick up your tablet and download a sample or buy the book if it really sounds great.

Browsing for books is something PG sort of does all the time, not just when he’s visiting a bookstore. For him, serendipity happens constantly and almost everywhere.

The Borders bankruptcy closed the nearest physical bookstore for PG, so it takes a little longer to drive to Barnes & Noble. When he goes there every few months, it’s just not that intriguing. And besides, it’s only a place to buy physical books and PG does very little of that any more.

Amazon, Bookstores, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

64 Comments to “The Absence Of Serendipity, Or, Why I Hate Shopping At Amazon”

  1. 1. Book blogs
    2. GoodReads (or similar type of site) — both what my friends are reading but also the curated lists
    3. Twitter/Facebook/Google+
    4. Book reviews from traditional media outlets
    5. Looking at Amazon top100 lists in a variety of categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. Not to mention the list of what others have bought who bought that book.
    6. Keyword/topic searches of local library catalog and/or Google Books and/or Amazon and/or MNLink, etc.

    Every single one of those methods regularly leads to serendipitous moments and casts a much wider net than whatever stock can be found on the shelves of a Barnes & Noble. It takes a little more intentionality rather than just wandering into a bookstore, but the payoff is much higher.

  2. This sort of comment is what caused me to write recently on my blog about how to shop in the Kindle Store.

    When you read something like this, it is clear that this person doesn’t even know that there in the Kindle store there are categories, and sub-categories, and moods, and settings, and different lists based on price, or customer rating, or bestseller status or overall popularity–or how to use the search bar to look for lists of books about all sorts of topics. And that trying all these different ways of looking for books provides wonderful chances for serendipity.

    And then I realized that one of the reasons so many authors also seem mystified when no one is buying their books is that they too don’t know the variety of ways that readers can find books in the Kindle store–and that maybe I should shift to spending more time educating readers (including authors) instead of authors. If anyone is interested — do check out my two most recent blog posts at http://mlouisalocke.com/blog/

    M. Louisa

    • This is spot-on. People who claim that Amazon’s “voodoo” takes away the element of serendipity in browsing just don’t know how to actually browse on Amazon. I do it all the time, and find all sorts of new things I’ve never come across before – and I even buy them!

      In fact, Amazon is much better at Serendipity Shopping because with a mouse-click I can see what other books the author’s written, read product reviews, see the best price, other formats (including ebooks), and so on.

      Honestly, when I’m browsing in a “real” book store, I always have my phone in hand, Amazon app open, vetting any purchase I make before I (very rarely) make one in a physical store.

      • @Jack

        Ooh, you’re showrooming! Bad, bad. You realize, of course, that you’re contributing to the demise of brick and mortar stores of all kinds, right? (Hit the Guilt Button here.) 😉

        Really, the effrontery of consumers thinking only of themselves, and buying at the lowest available price! What is the world coming to?

        In life, change is constant, and unavoidable. That applies to businesses, too. Darwin is about more than biology. B&M establishments need to adapt or they will perish. All the current crying and teeth-gnashing they’re currently doing won’t change that one iota. Talk about counter-productive behavior…

        As an example to the contrary, indie bookstores are opening and thriving. They’re competing by offering services and options beyond those that big chains provide. They’re adapting and flourishing, not whining about the unfairness of life.

        Another example is mom ‘n’ pop vendors selling through Amazon, which acts as a middleman, providing visibility and collecting/distributing monies. These small businesses are adapting and thriving. They don’t need a physical store to prosper. The Zon is enabling small businesses, and there will be many more such arrangements as The Internet Age grows and matures.

    • Louisa, categories and subcategories isn’t browsing. Using a browser isn’t browsing, but a directed search. What this and other authors are talking about is old style browsing, where something comes to hand, not shows up as part of list that is sorted by popularity, price or so on. I find categories useful when I am searching for a book, but I believe that browsing is a different, archaic perhaps but not necessarily Luddite, thing altogether. Today I was browsing in the library and picked up a book about Graham Greene simply because it was next to another book that I was interested in but rejected. I picked this one up, flipped through it and decided it was worth a read.

      Now I understand that you can DO all these things online, but it ain’t the same. Functionally yes. But saying that shopping on Amazon is better than browsing in a bookstore is akin to saying that driving in a car is better than walking. Easier… yes. Better? It depends on the goal.

      • Today I was BROWSING on Amazon.com with my BROWSER.

        Not sure why you think this isn’t browsing, but it is. No one gets to decide what I’m doing just by saying I’m not doing what I’m doing.

        I browse the Amazon store the same as I browse a library or a book store. The exact ‘physical’ method may differ, but to my eyes, browsing the inside of the book on Amazon is the same as pulling the book off the shelf and looking inside the cover.

        Now, you saying that shopping on Amazon isn’t the same as shopping in-person is foolish. You don’t get to decide what other people are doing just because you don’t agree with it.

        • Travis, because I resist changing the meaning of words meaninglessly. Look at the first (most significant definition) of the word.
          browse (brouz)
          v. browsed, brows·ing, brows·es
          a. To inspect something leisurely and casually: browsed through the map collection for items of interest.
          b. To read something superficially by selecting passages at random: browsed through the report during lunch.

          A sample downloaded is not inspecting as you go. It doesn’t allow you to read at random, except within a predetermined portion. And most of all, to my mind, it isn’t casual in the way that I understand it.

          As I said, the functionality is there, but the idea that putting in a keyword to see what comes up is browsing doesn’t ring true. When I was in debate, we did similar things in the library but it was called researching. Browsing was wandering through the stacks.

          You can reject my stand if you like; I was commenting on the fact that I understand what a person like this author meant. When people write comments that say he or she is wrong, that is incorrect. They are not wrong. They are saying there was once an experience that is going away. That is absolutely true. The fact that you use your computer and decide (with others) to call that browsing isn’t the point. The fact that the meaning of the words is changing over time isn’t the point either. Nor is it correct to say that they are living in another time. They have a response (emotional) that is based on an enjoyment from another era, perhaps. One that is going away. But they are not wrong to say browsing, the leisurely discovery process as they practiced it is going away. They are correct.

          • I’ve never really used keywords for browsing. I BROWSE online and rarely in bookstores. In bookstores, I usually look down the shelves, find the category I want, then see if hope of all hopes, they have something worth buying.

            Online, I click around on whatever interests me, sort results in alphabetical or lowest to highest price and check out each book for anything that stops me by looking interesting. I don’t even do this on Amazon. I’m on B&N with less functionality! On Amazon, I’ll click on anything, especially in those also boughts. In short, I browse. There is no purpose or research involved, just aimless browsing.

            Researching is what makes Amazon’s recommendations useless to me. If I’m on some other site and want to know more about a book, I look it up on Amazon and page through the reviews for the meaty ones that tell me what’s in the book. Most of those books I’m researching and wouldn’t read, so the recommendations are wildly off from my taste.

            You can do both online: browsing and researching. Whether you like it or not, people ARE doing both.

          • a. To inspect something leisurely and casually: browsed through the map collection for items of interest.

            To address your point more directly, this definition you posted is EXACTLY what we’re doing.

      • What about the list of Also Boughts across the mid-bottom of the page, though? I routinely click through those a bit, on books that interest me, and then click through some of those also-bought lists, and so on, and so on. If anything, it is arguably better than bookstore browsing, since the also-bought list is “cover out.” Albeit teenycovers, alas. Still, an intriguing blur and non-horrible title can usually get me to click.

        (This is something where iTunes really sucks — I like to browse several tabs deep, sometimes even opening tabs on half the list at once and going through them afterwards, then opening more tabs of those also-boughts… Limiting to one also-bought link at a time is… poorly thought out.)

  3. Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome! Amazon derangement syndrome!

  4. I live 45 minutes from a “box” store and really dislike even going to the local grocery store.

    Amazon prime makes it so easy to order from Amazon and I do so ALL the time for all sorts of things. I even use the Passive Voice referral link when I do 🙂 – see upper right sidebar of the site –

    What’s even more fun is that I don’t pay for Amazon Prime. I’m the “unmarried partner” of an Amazon Prime subscriber. Did you know that you can add other people to your Prime account? Only the first gets the streaming video, etc., but all get the free 2-day shipping even if they don’t live in the same house!

    So, my unmarried partner added me to his account and every time I order I feel like he gave me a present! win-win 🙂

  5. As both PG and the author suggest, it IS a generational thing, but it is also urban v. rural thing.

    I grew up in a rural area where b&m selections were incredibly limited. My mom bought most of our clothes, toys, etc., through Sears and Penney’s catalogues. I used the county library’s mail order system for books or *gasp* ordered books directly from the publisher.

    For Christmas this year, nearly everything I bought so far has been through online shopping, the 21st century equivalent of mail order. The one exception is a mom & pop gaming store, and I patronize them because they’ve always treated my son as a human being rather than an annoyance when he shops there.

    All I see is the pendulum swinging back to the way things were when I was a kid.

    • Very good point. If you have store a 5 minute walk away, that’s different than living in towns without a bookstore etc… A lot of people in the City ignore that.

    • That is a lovely and appropriate comparison, Suzan.

      As for browsing in a bookstore not being the same as browsing Amazing, well, I think about the days I went to bookstores on a weekly basis. I would walk in and take a look at the bestsellers stacked on tables, face-out, at the front of the door, sort of like Amazon’s front page. I might read the back of a couple of books (like clicking on the description). But my absofav thing was (and is) Science Fiction so I would then look for the sign that indicated the Sci Fi/Fantasy section and head straight over (kind of like clicking on the sci fi sub-category in Amazon). In a bookstore, I often felt overwhelmed because I could not afford ALL THE BOOKS but also underwhelmed because they only had so much shelf space and, often, I would run out of titles to browse. Now, the only thing I run out of is time and money.

  6. #DoingItWrong

    Being able to flip through the first couple of pages of twenty to forty books, spotting the pile of mouldering 50s sci-fi pulps, shying from the radioactive evil of the chick lit shelves, it is this browsing that has done more to introduce me to new and interesting authors and or genres than anything else.

    Uh, I can do this about 30x faster on Amazon against a much larger inventory and without irritating my allergies. And I don’t have listen to Luddites while I do it.

    Although every time I see one of these articles it reminds of one of my amazing money-making ideas that I never get around to implementing: The Online Retro Indie Book Store Front to Amazon. I want to build a site that lets folks “wander the virtual aisles” of a bookstore “stocked” from my own personal picks + their alsobots, but presented as if they are all just shelved in sections like a bookstore. I could probably make more on that through affiliate links than I could through a “physical” book store.

  7. Well… I do not bemoan the lack of a physical app store, but I certainly do bemoan the lack of serendipity in app stores. I really dislike how hard it is to find new things in the Apple app store, for example. All they really want to show you is top 10 type lists. Yes, I know the entire planet has bought Angry Birds, and no, I don’t need you to push the app in my face again for the ten thousandth time in the last 3 years.

    App developers will tell you that they suffer from the same problems that many indie writers are beginning to have with Amazon: discoverability. Once you make it near the top of a list, momentum can keep you going. If Apple chooses your app to highlight, you’re golden. But most apps will languish in obscurity forever because nobody can find them. A lot of good books languish in obscurity too.

    These days, most of the apps I buy (and I do not buy many) come via recommendations I stumble across outside of the app store.

    • I agree. It is hard to find something new. And top ten lists don’t work. That said, Apple’s app store isn’t as good as Amazon’s. Though I still think both leave much to be desired. The thing is, with the data available to them they have the potential to being amazing (or for a competitor to do so). I think they will…

    • Honestly iTunes is not very well designed for searches or much else in my opinion. Trying to find an app for something, or even syncing them sometimes if you downloaded to your phone first, can be a pain.

      They should design a search where you can specify price ranges, types, etc. like most stores have. Futureshop, Walmart and other’s can do it, why can’t Apple?

      • Indeed.

        The iTunes store suffers from the same discoverability problems. I use other sources to find new music. For all their money, Apple simply has terrible, terrible search functionality in their stores.

        • Exactly. The iTunes store is more appalling for browsing than the author accuses Amazon of being. For years, I’ve only used it for occasional, *very* focused searches for something I’ve already decided to buy. I gave up trying to follow the links in their recommendation lists to stumble across something I’d never heard before. I think the last straw was the album description written in dark purple text on a black background, in the store’s usual 6-point type with no option to increase it. Apple could have made hundreds of dollars off of me on impulse music purchases, if only they’d been more interested in serving their customers than in trying to show off their kewl design skillz.

  8. The smell of entitlement is strong in this one.

    Being a near-Luddite — my covers are built on Fireworks 3 and recently the free Photoshop CS2, and I write on Word 2007 and wish my Windows box would run the WordPerfect I bought in ’95 — I’m grateful for Amazon.

    I’m sure Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Nora Roberts and Jayne Anne Krentz would be grateful, too, because I can buy their books six months before publication, or three, or day of, whenever I hear about them, instead of only when I walk into a bookstore and think about walking to their part of the shelf.

    I like bookstores, and I agree that serendipity is a good part of the experience. You know what else is good? Visiting the Lions Club bookstore in Avondale, Pa., or perusing the catalog from the CT remainder seller. Plenty of room for serendip there.

    • “wish my Windows box would run the WordPerfect I bought in ’95 ”

      Er, so that would be wordperfect 6.2 for dos?

      In which case, you can get it to work in windows by installing dosbox (available for free) and doing a little fiddling around with a few keyboard mappings.

      If these words don’t make sense to you, but you have a geek friend ask a favour from him.

  9. “No doubt this is all terribly luddite of me…”

    +1 pt. for honesty.

    I’ve mentioned this before, about going to a B&N after a year and a half hiatus during which I was only buying and reading e-books.

    I realized that “traditional” book browsing was irritating after 5 minutes but I fought through it for the hour I had to kill and to get rid of 25$ B&N gift card that had been hiding in the back of my wallet for years. It was an hour of turning my head sideways to read spines, hunching down on one knee to get to the bottom shelf, having to heft books out to read the back cover. Sifting through the storefront tables, wedged between aisles of chotzki crap, of movie and TV tie-ins, celebrity dreck and piles of the latest from 20 or so mega-sellers I don’t care for.

    Utter. Pure. Agony.

    Sometimes market forces dictate business behavior and sometimes a new product or service changes our behavior. Amazon has clearly succeeded in the latter when it comes to book buying. As far as I’m concerned anyway.

    And I think that’s what has traditionalists bothered the most. But I’m not holding my breath for any of them to be honest about that.

    • I totally agree with you D. L. When we first got our readers, we still made the weekly browsing trip, but it didn’t last long. I find I have more than enough to read, so however I’m doing it now that I’m not going to a physical book store, I have 116 books in my reader’s TBR pile. Even though I have more than enough to read, I still find myself buying more books.

      The great thing about technology is that I don’t have to trek down to B & N to see if my favorite author has written a new book. Fictfact.com will send me an email. If I think the cost is too high, I can enter the book’s ASIN into ereaderiq.com and they will send me an email when the book price has lowered to the price I can afford.

      Browsing at physical book stores, don’t miss it and don’t need it.

  10. The thing they never seem to realise is that if you engage with Amazon, Amazon engages with you. I have just come to the end of a series of books by an Icelandic writer called Yrsa Siggurdardottir whom I doubt if I would ever had found in a book store. It was Amazon that suggested I might like her work – a mixture of supernatural and crime fiction, scary and incredibly addictive. Amazon was right. But when I think about it, there was some very sophisticated analysis of my previous purchases and browsing history going into that recommendation and I’m impressed by it. It worked. I just kept clicking the buy button and now I’m waiting impatiently for her next book.

    • I admit: I use Amazon too much for research so I can’t trust literally ANYTHING it recommends to me except the books I already bought. It’s abysmally awfully not to my taste. :shrugs: You can only have it one way: research or reading.

      • You can tell it to remove items from your browsing history. You can even tell it to ignore items you bought for recommendations. I bought a japanese food item as a housewarming gift for a friend. It was skewing my recommendations. I just clicked on the why recommended link for one of the odd items. Chose this was a gift and don’t use for recommendations and refreshed the page. Suddenly my recommendations made sense again.

      • What I do when I’m researching on Amazon is to engage Google Chrome’s “Incognito” browsing. That way the stuff I’m looking at for covers or whatever doesn’t become part of my personal browsing history.

      • This is my problem as well. I’ve got so many different areas of research in addition to the fiction I read that the recommendations no longer work well for me. I have to depend on word of mouth and finding things I like through patient shuffling to the lower levels of the bestseller lists or (gasp!) trying to go outside the box and look for weird things.

        I run a SFF book club for expats, and it is dismaying that so many of the books the members choose come from the bestseller lists on Amazon because we don’t have much other choice.

        The English sections of the local bookstores are even more abysmal than the bestseller lists. Some of us are even resorting to 20-30 year old books just to shake things up. Some of the bestsellers we’ve read lately were just not up to par.

        While someone above mentioned the agony of getting down and dirty in bookstores, I really loved it and do miss it. I could spend literally hours in a huge B&N sifting through the shelves and wandering to areas I normally wouldn’t even think about going into to buy a book. Not to mention cookbooks. The Look Inside feature is just not adequate for buying cookbooks, which tend to be a hefty investment anyway.

        Amazon doesn’t replace the fun of a really big bookstore for me. Browsing through Amazon is a different kind of fun – sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating. So I don’t see any conflict with having both bookstores and Amazon, but not living in an English-speaking country, there are no real good alternatives to Amazon for heavy readers of English. And I guess that’s the sometimes frustrating thing – not having alternatives.

    • And here’s some serendipity right now… I’m just about to go browse for Yrsa Siggurdardottir because your post has told me what she writes, and it sounds right up my alley. 🙂

  11. PG says there is no doubt that some people enjoy wandering around bookstores or other retail establishments as a recreational pursuit…. PG thinks this is a generational thing

    I think it’s a human thing. Kids loving stores as much as adults, and no natter how efficient digital shopping is, it’s just not a replacement. It doesn’t mean that they’ll be shopping for paper books, however.

    • Cars aren’t the same as horses either. People who get hung up on the “but it doesn’t have this quality” of anything are missing the point. Life changes. Shopping online is different. Better in most ways for most people, but not exactly the same. Sometimes it really is better to be able to touch the thing you are buying or see it personally. Shops will be around for stuff like that. But, guess what, those shops won’t be exactly like most shops today. They’ll change too.

    • But I HATE stores. Hate shopping. I’m eternally grateful for a hubs that LOVES grocery stores because it’s probably been 5+ years since I’ve been in one. I actually go in a physical store maybe 5 times a year and that’s usually a drugstore for something quick. I just bought a freaking custom made SOFA online–I got a fabric swatch, liked it, read the reviews and specs and will have it delivered to my door. No physical store involved. Looking around, pretty much every stitch of clothing I’m wearing, the furniture I’m sitting on, the computer I’m keying on was all purchase online without any in-store experience. And if I don’t like someting I buy, returns are pretty danged easy for most everything.

      I should also mention I have a minor disability that makes physical shopping a chore. Online shopping is not only easier, but I have pretty much the whole WORLD to select from instead of the few obscure shops in a pretty small town.

      And serendipity in my shopping happens every single day thanks to great web sites, interesting connections with people on blogs and social media, etc.

  12. Unfortunately, I really don’t have the luxury of spending hours browsing in physical bookstores anymore. I either duck in when I’m out picking up lunch or I go on the weekend with my family, and there’s a finite time limit.

    I like bookstores. I also like online book shopping. It’s nice to have options.

    • “I really don’t have the luxury of spending hours browsing in physical bookstores anymore.”

      Yeah, that’s a big second here. With a “not quite so crazy about books” wife, and 3 youngin’s, long, long gone are the days of spending hours on a Saturday casually breezing through book store aisles for my own pleasure. The author (and dozens like him who have made this stupid argument before) may have that luxury but I sure don’t. I doubt I’m in a minority.

      But between my phone when I’m on the go, or any of a few devices at home, I can browse whenever I have 5 minutes to kill. What I decide to buy is never out of stock, is delivered instantly, is exponentially cheaper meaning more books to buy and the best part is no waiting in line to deal with a disgruntled 20 something cashier who hates life. And all those 5 min periods easily add up to more browsing and buying than I ever did when I was single and carefree.

      I guess I’ll just have to manage the best I can in a life without book buying “serendipity”.

  13. I just don’t understand this viewpoint at all. Since I started primarily reading ebooks, my “to be read” pile has become larger and more diverse than ever in my life.

    I am continually seeing authors and readers suggesting books that catch my attention – in genres that are entirely new to me.

    I can’t imagine having the retailer be the only way I learn about books.

  14. I buy on Amazon by author. I browse in the library to discover the unknown gem.

  15. A couple days ago I got a tire pressure gauge. Yesterday Fed-Ex brought me peach-mango coconut water. Today Fed-Ex brought a small dog house for my feral cats.

    Haters gotta hate. It’s a really unattractive quality, though.

    • I can only agree as my FedEx driver curses my name on his way back to the truck (and I curse my cats for having to order 40lb bags of litter every other week).

      With Amazon Prime…it’s hard to get motivated enough to go to a store just to pay higher prices and fight other ignorant savages who can’t figure out there are other shoppers in the store with them.

      /me hugs Amazon Prime

  16. Is it me or does Forbes seem to have some sort of vendetta against Amazon?

  17. People like this never stop to think that if bookstores, in general, were meeting reader needs this wouldn’t be happening. Or maybe they just don’t care.

  18. I thought it was about as silly an article as I’ve ever read. I don’t even think it is a generational thing, just someone who wants an excuse to whine about Amazon. NO ONE tries to browse every book ever printed in order to find something to read. Yes, I might wander through a bookstore, poking at this book or that, but while I’m doing it I’m not poking through a section of fantasy or best sellers not a “serendipitous selection”. And at the end I pick up that new edition of CMoS I went in to find.

  19. I do find one thing annoying about Amazon. Always have. It’s the one thing I miss from bricks-and-mortar stores: it’s the “interface” (if you will)of a four-foot-high, six-foot-long case of shelves packed with books, all spine out, that you can browse almost at a glance. I’ve not been able to find the equivalent.

    I’ve gotten used to workarounds, but I still miss it. The web interface is so SLOW and presents WAY too few books at one go.

    I could stand there to be an interface that presents books just that way — an infinite row, categorized by genre, alpha by author of the spines of books. Click on one, it flies out to show the standard item listing. Click the X to close, and you’re back to the spine-out scroll.

    I have NO idea how it could be implemented, but I, for one, would be in it for DAYS.


    • I used to think the same way, but the last five or so times I’ve been in a bookstore, the bookstore irritates me to no end and I typically go home and shop on Amazon.

      I grew up when there were B Dalton and Waldenbooks in every mall, and I loved, LOVED nothing more than to wander the aisles looking for something new, exciting, something I’d never discovered before.

      Now…this annoys me to no end. I keep trying every once in a while, but each time I go into a brick and mortar bookstore, I get so frustrated that I tell myself I’ll never go back (and then two or three months later, I’ll forget and go into a bookstore).

      • You may have something. I haven’t been in a bricks-and-mortar store in years. I’ve gotten the habit of book shopping the Amazon way. Still and all — and this isn’t Amazon’s fault, it’s a fundamental flaw in the WWW model (I imagine, in fact, that Amazon’s web engineers are bugged by this as well) — IMNSVHO, the web interface is painfully slow and the quantity of options offered at any one go is way too small.


  20. I browse the “customers also bought” lists all the time. I also review the books I read, so it’s natural to go back, and for the books I enjoyed, I scan along several screens-worth of the “also boughts”. About half the samples on my Kindle came from such browsing.

  21. “I am, rather, browsing to try and find one that I do want to read. And that is something fueled almost entirely by serendipity”

    Which is a massive problem for the book business.

    Can you imagine describing going to a restaurant and successfully finding something you want to eat as an act of serendipity ? That’s the sole purpose of the business.

    What they are saying is that, when they go to a bookstore there are shelves that you have to dig through.
    “Read all his books”, “Tried that, didn’t like it”, “Look at that awful cover”, “Not another vampire romance”, “Third in the series, doesn’t look like they have the first”, “Saw the film and still trying to forget it”, “Oh, the book OF the film, not the original”, “People under thirty shouldn’t have biographies”, “Shelf of Agatha Christie”, “Shelf of Agatha Christie knockoffs”, “He’s dead, how can he still be churning out sequels”

    If you go fishing, catching a fish may be an act of serendipity. Th same should not apply when you go to fishmongers.

  22. Serendipity seems to me something that rightly ought to be eliminated in searching for a book. Why rely on random chance in finding a book, when technology allows us to be at least somewhat more precise?

    And I’ve been into a lot of bookstores, indie and otherwise. The contents of the shelves rarely change. Once I’ve been in one a few times, I can tell you exactly what’s going to be on the shelves.

    These people want to be inconvenienced, because they like it when other people see them rooting about in bookstores. It’s about how other people see them, not about getting readers to books they want to read. Amazon does that far better than brick and mortar stores ever did or ever could do.

  23. I think what bugs me about a piece like this is how the author confuses preference with some level of quality. If you like a bookstore better, by all means, have at it.

    But I don’t care.

    I like Amazon better, and I won’t try to convince you if you don’t try to convince me. It’s much like the people who insist on defending their love of print books when they see me reading my Kindle.

    “I like to crack a book.”

    Mazel tov.

    I don’t care.

  24. I used to buy books at the bookstore that I didn’t really want, but they seemed better than the alternative of leaving empty handed. Now I have shelves full of books I will probably never read. But I read most of the stuff on my kindle/iPad.

  25. Do people get frequent flyer miles for telling us how they don’t like Amazon?

  26. I hate to break it to the bookstore browsers, but their path through the store, what they see on the tables laid face up near the door, what they spot eye-level among the spine-out shelved books, the way they stumble on books and their ‘discovery’ of new authors under a 3 for 2 scheme or similar promotions is entirely designed and monitored by experts.
    Unless they’re loftily stalking through the bookstore on stilts or crawling past the promotions on their hands and knees, they are in the hands of prepared arrangements that favor certain books over others when it comes to catching their eyes.

  27. You try the serendity of discovering new books when you live hundreds of miles from the nearest (English language) bookstore. Ebooks (and the amazing ease of shopping in the Amazon bookstore) have opened the world to US authors. Literally.

  28. My local bookstores don’t stock the sorts of books I want to read or need to read. So I have Inter Library Loan (because I need to read the $400 history of water policy, not store it on a velvet-covered plinth under glass) and electronic book stores. I still get some fiction and pop-history from the locals but not a great deal.

  29. it takes a little longer to drive to Barnes & Noble. When he goes there every few months, it’s just not that intriguing. And besides, it’s only a place to buy physical books and PG does very little of that any more.

    Wait. Barnes & Noble sells BOOKS??? Last time I was in one of their stores, it was all music, games, stationery and coffee.

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