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).