Amazon: death of discovery and (by algorithm) the interesting read

What Amazon can’t sell me: In a picture, these. These are books I bought at a brick and mortar. I wasn’t looking for them.  Amazon can’t sell them to me because its algorithm doesn’t know I want them and can’t learn it. I didn’t know either until I saw them in a store.  Every one excites me.

Each was the only copy. None were on sale, promoted in the store or faced out.  7 are hardcovers.  Every one is written by or is about a tier 1 leader or avant garde member in his or her craft or field, including investing, elite 20th century English comedy, Johns Hopkins chemistry, global business communications, Harvard Medical School molecular genetics,  world-record-setting American music production, corporate culture anthropology, jazz, and beyond. Every author (and by extension  publisher) compellingly valued this content over volume. 

For comparison, the book chain said global best seller 50 Shades of Grey was ranked 18th in sales a week ago. It’s above 100 today.  Regenesis which I bought is ranked 50,519th.  Others above are surely ranked worse as Regenesis got both popular and unpopular press.  

As physical books recede—and there’s a fair argument it was big chains that killed off indy stores where literature thrived to start—the above list will mostly vanish.  There won’t be a route to them. Those who found them worth writing and publishing will fall too beyond any algorithm that tells the world not simply what literature costs and who likes it (as if it matters in discovery) but worse: What literature exists.  The thing about vanishing is when it happens, the stuff that gets gone is gone so well you don’t detect it was an option. For the record, this picture, this tapestry of unique content, is the option readers like me lose in an Amazon world.  

The discovery vector–massive content collisions per unit time—that is the physical bookstore, differs meaningfully from incestuous online retailer algorithms. Algorithms trade in precedent. PCR style. Not discovery. But like a math proof by deduction, under algorithms there are fewer starting points to real discovery. And none seem superior to a simple efficient 45 minute brick and mortar stroll past 10,000 to 2 million books that led me to the content above. That’s a search engine.

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