Hey, Amazon: Think distributed

Amazon has started authors blogging on its site, which is a fine thing. But they could do so much more. Though it is a leader in innovation on the internet, Amazon is not keeping up with the distributed nature of the beast. It is still building what it builds on Amazon. It is thinking like a big, old store with walls around it, albeit virtual ones. But Amazon could be doing so much more to take advantage of the fact that its customers are in control. Especially because they don’t depend on ad revenue in their environment, they could find many more ways for customers and authors to help push product from wherever they are online. And so I’ll make a few suggestions. But first, on the blogs themselves:

The Times blurbs the author blogs today, leading with Meg Wolitzer’s. So I go try to find her blog from her book page and it’s camoflauged a bit under a new “Amazon Connects” brand, where they say she “sent the following post to customers.” They don’t use the word blog here (though they do on the blog itself).

These author blogs aren’t promoted on the service. Why not link to them from the books and home pages and link to a directory of author blogs from any of them? When I search for “blogs” on Amazon, I find nothing. So if readers see this post or the Times story and want to go find which authors have blogs, there’s no way to do it.

And, for God’s sake, give us RSS feeds of the blogs. If I care about what an author’s going to say and want an alert when there’s something new (because I’ll just bet these guys won’t be doing it daily), then what better way to keep me coming back? The entire point of this blog project is to develop more of personal and loyal relationship between writers and readers. Well, how better to do that than to let readers subscribe to authors? RSS was made for that. And Amazon is already good at using RSS elsewhere.

The Times also points out that these aren’t blogs as conversations; they’re still one-way endeavors — like books.

The Amazon blogs are, at least for now, intended as a one-way communication, with writers talking to readers. But some authors have already found a way around that: Anita Diamant, the author of “The Last Days of Dogtown” and other novels, guides readers from her Amazon blog to her own Web site, where they can write to her directly. Other authors post their e-mail addresses on their profile pages.

But, of course, lots of authors do have their own blogs. So that leads me to a few suggestions for how Amazon can take advantage of the distributed world:

No. 1: Amazon should link out to authors’ blogs. I should be able to get to the Freakonomics blog from the Freakonomics book page, or to Instapundit from Glenn Reynolds’ book page. Amazon shouldn’t be thinking like big, old media companies, who have been reluctant to link out (even though they should and even though they are slowly learning that linking out is both a better service to their readers and a way to get in the conversation and get new readers). In Amazon’s case, the goal is to get people more engaged with authors, and where better to do that than on the authors’ own blogs? And who better to sell books on Amazon than those authors?

No. 2: Amazon has created the permalink of products — the new UPC, really. When bloggers want to refer to a book or most any product, they’re often in the habit of linking to an Amazon page. That means that conversation is sparked around those products and Amazon should work with Technorati or another player to gather and expose those links: Here’s what people are saying about______. Amazon would find that this is a virtuous circle: Bloggers will link to be linked and both benefit. Of course, some of the links will be negative. But Amazon has long since crossed that bridge.

No. 3: I’m one among many who wish that Amazon would allow reviewers to export their reviews to their own blogs or even allow readers to subscribe to favorite reviewers’ latest posts. This, too, is a virtuous circle: If I can leave a review on Amazon, adding to its content, but also add it to my own blog, then I’d be more likely to write reviews. And if I distribute those reviews on my blog, then those create more links to Amazon.

No. 4: Enable communities to form around authors and products. Do a deal with Meetup to enable, say, Stephen King fans to get together and scare each other.

What else?

: LATER: Damien Mulley suggests:

If I were Amazon I’d approach people like Bookslut and ask their permission to link to them from some main book section on Amazon and offer to host them if there is a dramatic traffic increase. They should be doing the same with other maven type sites too.

I wouldn’t bother to ask their permission; what blogger wouldn’t like that? Hosting is a good idea. S

It would also be a good idea for Amazon to help create ad networks across appropriate, targeted sites — an extension of its existing affiliate network. The more people in the more places who sell the more stuff, the better it is for them.

: Kirk H in the comments suggests:

I’d like to see Amazon do the Metacritic normalization of interviews from mainstream reviewers. They have starred reviews from customers but sometimes I wonder if a bunch of the author’s friends are writing them. In other words it’d be nice to see something like:
Readers gave it 4.5 stars
Critics gave it 1.5 stars
I use this http://www.metacritic.com/books/ for book reviews as well as the Amazon member reviews. It would be nice if I didn’t have to visit both but I’m not sure if there are software patents involved.

Yes, I’ve long liked that idea. When I started Entertainment Weekly, I stole one of the best ideas from the Berlin city magazines Tip and Zitty: a box called critical mass that quantified, into grades, and summarized the opinions of a handful of critics on a handful of current releases. The hard part was that interns had to contact the critics to get them to give the products grades, since too few critics issued stars or other ratings.

Amazon, however, could set a data standard for reviews across the internet. I like that idea: It creates a microformats or tag standard to let people rate products from their own blogs (so long as it can be protected from spamming).

  • greg

    Excellent post. I wonder if Amazon is a little too close to the forest…

  • http://unbeknownst.net KirkH

    I was at the last Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego. I overheard Bezos in the hall talking enthusiastically about RSS so I think he gets it. I’d like to see Amazon do the Metacritic normalization of interviews from mainstream reviewers. They have starred reviews from customers but sometimes I wonder if a bunch of the author’s friends are writing them.

    In other words it’d be nice to see something like:
    Readers gave it 4.5 stars
    Critics gave it 1.5 stars

    I use this http://www.metacritic.com/books/ for book reviews as well as the Amazon member reviews. It would be nice if I didn’t have to visit both but I’m not sure if there are software patents involved.

  • http://www.mythusmageopines.com/mt Alan Kellogg

    Advice to Amazon: Linking to the author’s own site means less strain on your servers.

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  • http://unbeknownst.net KirkH

    Oh, and they should manufacture custom bookshelves so people don’t have to hunt for them all over the web.

  • Mike

    You always seem quick to knock services and make suggestions but haven’t a clue about scaling. Amazon will get around to doing things when ready. Do you think Amazon knows everyones blog address to link out to? Web services are ongoing projects so chill out. If I wanted to waste my time I could punch holes in every reco you have. Why would they allow people to export reviews and feedbacks? Name one money making machine that’s willing to kill a competitive advantage. Do you think you are so ahead of their thoughts? I doubt it. What makes you an expert? I wouldn’t want you running any business I’m involved with. Why don’t you start a service with free flowing data and see how things pan out.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Well, Mike, I have no doubt that the authors and publishers would be delighted to supply Amazon with their addresses.
    They should allow people to export reviews so those reviews can appear all over the net and drive traffic back to Amazon to sell books.
    And that’s fine, Mike, I’m sure we wouldn’t get along at the office. I prefer people who try to make suggestions and don’t just try to shoot them down. Or if they shoot them down, they “waste time” trying to give reasons. Want to have a rational discussion, fine. Start.

  • http://mulley.net Damien Mulley

    Jeff, the permission thing is so that someone doesn’t find themselves snowed under with traffic and for some reason having their hosting account terminated for exceeding traffic. For someone like Amazon with the potential of sending millions of people to your site it might be a nice genture to warn the site owners. For example when iTunes added podcasts a lot of websites keeled over with excess bandwidth warnings. So an email from Amazon saying “Hey, love your site, so much so that we want to send a lot of visitors over to it, if you think hosting is an issue, we can happily help with hosting if you wish. If you want us not to link to you then just let me know.”

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Damien: Fair enough. But I have yet to hear a blogger complain about getting too much traffic. Yes, they complain when they get hammered and their servers go down. But it’s a pain they seem to quite enjoy. Still, point taken.

  • http://mulley.net Damien Mulley

    I’m certainly enjoying the jump in traffic from this post! :)

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Should I apologize? ;-)

  • http://www.realisticrecords.net/themillions/ Max

    As a “book blogger,” I would certainly love to see Amazon link to sites like mine. There is a very rich comminity of bloggers who focus on books and the book industry, and it would be great to see Amazon acknowledge them. But there is one interesting potential hurdle. Many book bloggers (myself included) link to online bookstores in the course of their literary discussions and receive a small commission when visitors click through and buy from those sites. The thing is, not everybody links to Amazon (though I happen to), many link to Powells, Barnes and Noble, and others. Would Amazon make the mistake of only linking to blogs that link back to Amazon? Doing so would cut out many of the best book blogs out there…

  • http://www.dotnetmasters.com Billy Hollis

    On the subject of Amazon ratings, they are generally good with one glaring hole. Any books that feature political themes are in danger of getting slammed by ideological opponents who have not even read the book. It just becomes a shouting match that has nothing to do with whether the book is any good.

    That can’t be stopped, but there is one obvious way to ameliorate it. Amazon knows who has ordered the book from them. For a reviewer who didn’t get the book from them, the review form could ask something like “what’s the third word on page 186?”.

    Reviews from those who did not buy the book from Amazon and can’t answer the question could either be spurned or just weighted lower. That ought to clean out a lot of the garbage in political book reviews.

  • Donovan

    It’s hard to take the Amazon Customer Ratings seriously. Especially with history, current affairs, political titles. The “rating,” more often than not only reflects whether the reviewer agrees with the point-of-view expressed in the book. That’s not a “review” of the book, that’s a reviewers take on the author’s philosophy. There has to be a better way.

    I think most of your ideas are good ones. However, I would hate to see Amazon feel like they need to institute loads of new features – just because they can. I like the idea of Amazon slowly introducing new things and not allowing the site to suddenly have an ultra-cluttered user interface that offers every web toy for cutting-edge techies, while becoming confusing for the simple book-lover who wants to order a book or two. I think Amazon’s progression has been one of scaling and reasonable introductions to readers, rather than a need to throw out all of these new things that they “could” or “should” offer to satisfy early adopters of certain web tools and culture.

  • http://www.realisticrecords.net/themillions/ Max

    Another quick note on bookstore blogs. Powells, the Portland, Ore. independent with a big Web presence, has a very good blog. Authors frequently come in as guest posters and regular bloggers from Powells highlight interesting books and topics. They allow comments, have an RSS feed and link out to other blogs. Though Powells is isn’t a big corporation like Amazon, it is an example of a company in the book business doing blogging right.

  • http://www.theperfectworld.us Cal

    Further to Mike’s point, I use a page like this, which uses the ISBN and title to build a page. The Amazon link gets the picture, but only because it’s the only one that offers pictures. But all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Alibris, and ABEBooks get a direct link, allowing the reader a choice of affiliate links. I also affiliate with Overstock, Best Buy, Circuit City, and many other merchants that Amazon views as competitors.

    I can’t see Amazon buying off on this. After all, what value are they receiving by doing all this integration? About the only incentive I can see would be if they were to demand exclusive affiliation in exchange for a link from their site.

    So suppose Amazon required exclusivity in exchange for traffic. The bloggers who don’t get much affiliate income would certainly think the trade worth it. Is such exclusivity desirable? Should Amazon be allowed to use its size to force people to exclusive affiliation?

    I don’t see any of these considerations in your post. But then, I’ve never seen you mention affiliate advertising, unless it was a quote from someone else. Come to think of it, I don’t think you’ve ever recognized that other sites sell books.

    So maybe that’s a good place for you to start. You often have interesting ideas, but they usually reveal that you really don’t know the whole spectrum of online advertising and the economics behind it. Rest assured, Amazon does.

  • http://www.theperfectworld.us Cal

    Whoops–that’s “Max’s point”.

  • richard miniter

    As an author who has sold quite a few books on Amazon, I heartily agree that the reviewers of current affairs books are simply flamethrowers. Amazon should ensure that only those who have bought the book and actually had it shipped to them can write reviews, at least for controversial topics. Few things are more disappointing for an author than reading reviews that praise your book while you are positive that the reviewers haven’t read it.
    Also, the “Look Inside” feature takes months for Amazon to agree to do, if they agree at all. Why not make “Look Inside” available for every new book? It allows online buyers to browse a book the way they would in a store and should increase sales.

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  • levi smith

    If you were shut down by amazon alliance you can get a new account. They read your IP address you can get a new account but you need to have a different computer and internet service. Never log into your old account the A team will read the cookies. You will need to use different credit card and address as well as bank account. Always collect your payments daily then the A team cannot hold your payment the 90 days. It works great my account was shut down now seansmarsh I am up an running as wowdeals and there is noting they can do about it.

  • http://www.ideas4homebiz.blogspot.com Catherine

    It would be great if Amazon did do links to the blogs of their authors, but I don’t see how it would help them increase sales. When making a purchase, people take the recommendations of third parties far more seriously than the opinion of the seller.

    The authors want to sell their books, and of course they’re going to work harder than this than anyone else – but that doesn’t mean they will sell more books.

    I personally always make my purchase decision based on the reviews. Yes, I do know that some of them are BS, particularly some of the business book reviews. But the majority of the reviews on amazon seem genuine

  • Se

    How much does amazon cost to put your books on their website. i can’t find a price. I thougth I saw 10%. Does your printer send the books directly to amazon? Any suggestions on a printer and marketing. I am a first time author and would appreciate any sentence of advice.

    Thanks!