The View From 32


MAY 24, 2007  More below: AMAZON RECOMMENDS

The Long Tail coverA review-in-progress:

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson is one of those "buzz" books about the Internet economy that I've avoided because 1) no time to read it, and 2) the idea seems pretty simple, why a whole book about it?

But there it was on the shelf at the Lakewood Library and it looked like a quick read. Plus, I'm on summer break now, so I have time for books again.

Midway through the first chapter—called The Long Tail—I was ready to quit. I got it, I got it: because of the Internet, companies don't have to sell lots and lots of a few items to make money. They can digitally maintain catalogs of thousands, even millions of different movies, books, songs, whatever, and make money by selling small quantities of each.

I started to get interested as the author put more and more numbers behind the facts:

The most important thing about this isn't the huge difference in numbers of titles, it's that although many of the titles only sell in small quantities, they add up to 21-40% of the online retailers' total sales. In other words, there's big bucks in small quantities.

Chapters 2 through 5 connect the dots between Kasey Kasem's Top 40, the Sears catalog, and Wikipedia in a way that's pretty interesting. So despite my early misgivings I've found myself drawn into the details of what author Anderson calls "creating a consumer paradise." Not sure that this represents a great advance for civilization, but it's something I'd like to understand a bit better.  I'm pretty sure that there's important ideas for web designers here.

More on the book in a day or two when I finish it.


Amazon reads my mind

Another book I picked up at the library is Water for Elephants, A Novel, by Sara Gruen. I've had a string of poor choices in novels recently, books with interesting story ideas written in a style that was boring and/or annoying. I was slogging through the books just to find out how the stories ended rather than enjoying them. Water for Elephants is different; it's a pleasure to read. So while I've been mentally patting myself on the back for finally picking a good book, it was kind of spooky to go to today and find that very same book—which I'd never heard of before—on the "Recommended for You" list.

It may not be that spooky, really. Amazon bases its suggestions on ratings I've given to other books I've read. When I go to the library I look for book covers that look interesting, then read the jacket blurb. Amazon's method make more sense.