June 27, 2010

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Say What?

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A long time ago, I signed up for a chain bookstore's newsletter, one of those promotional thingies you find in your inbox telling you about the latest deals going on at the store. Part of this marketing gimmick is an occasional email with a suggested title related to my past purchases: "If you liked blank, you'll love blank." Most of the time I've already bought the book they suggest and don't pay much attention but this past week was such an odd one it made me say, what?

"If you liked Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, you'll love Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult."

Err, huh? How are these two books related? Is it because they are books written by women in the last couple of years? Or had their books turned into movies? That's like saying, "If you liked The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, you'll love The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks." These writers have radically different styles. Kinsella writes funny, quirky stories about young single women. Picoult writes emotional, ripped-from-the-headlines stories about families torn apart.

I'm sure this title wasn't handpicked for me by someone with a great love of literature, possibly working in a special department at headquarters wracking their brains trying to find that perfect book for their customers. More likely a computer algorithm designed to sell more bestsellers. Does it work, I wonder?

That is one of the disadvantages of buying books online. I do it, of course, but I don't get the warm and fuzzies while I'm typing in my credit card number. And say what you will about brick and mortar chain stores, at least you get to talk to a real person. If you live in a small town and go there often enough, they would have to get to know you simply by your repeated presence. At least, you can ask, "What do you think...?" when trying to buy a book.

It doesn't surprise me that word of mouth is so important in the publishing industry. Readers are asking other readers for recommendations: their friends, bloggers, buddies on facebook and twitter. Everyone wants to get on Oprah because her opinion means so much to many people and those books go on to be best sellers. You want someone whose opinion you trust to offer you a suggestion, not a computer.

You can, I know, like both Kinsella and Picoult but I wouldn't pick out Vanishing Acts for someone based on the knowledge they bought Twenties Girl. I would at first suggest another Kinsella novel like Confessions of a Shopaholic. Or the quirky The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson. What would you suggest?

What do you think of promoting books in this way, if you get those emails? Do you ever buy the suggested title?


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13 comments :

  1. Hmm, I also can't see the obvious link between Kinsella and Picoult. I've got Twenties Girl unread on my shelves, but know both writers from other books.

    I usually have a quick look at the book they suggest but I don't ever use it as evidence that I would like the book. I still make up my own mind about it. And like you, I often don't see why I should like their suggestion.

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  2. I've never bought a book that way and rarely pay attention to the recommendations, because some of them are pretty bizarre, like the one you point out.

    However, the Morning News has started doing a regular feature called the Biblioracle, where the books editor makes recommendations based on the last five books you've read. Great fun, and interesting matches.

    http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/the_biblioracle/the_return_of_the_biblioracle.php

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  3. I wonder if the link is simply that somebody has bought both books, so the company has decided that maybe you'd like the other book as you've already bought one of them?

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  4. I do get those emails, and generally ignore them. I would suggest one of Jill Mansell's books for someone who enjoys Sophie Kinsella.

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  5. leeswarmer- I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't see it!

    Amy- That sounds like a great feature. I must check it out.

    Nikki-ann- That might be how they do it, I don't know.

    Kathy- Thanks for the suggestion!

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  6. I don't see an obvious connection between the two either. My first thought was the same one Nikki-Ann had, that perhaps they are basing it on buying habits. I know Amazon has a habit of doing that.

    I find promoting books that way interesting, although I admit I don't usually give much credence to the recommendations. If I do take interest in a title suggested that way, I do a little more research (LibraryThing, blog reviews) to determine whether it really is something I'd like.

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  7. Dude even my librarian doesn't know the difference between Kinsella and Picoult. I know the difference even though I've never read either author. You should just ask me. I have evolved to be more of a librarian than MY librarian. You may call me the ALPHA BOOK NERD. I've taken to dispensing advice at bookstores to strangers who ask for it or not.

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  8. I get those emails, too...I don't even read them. I have to go check out this bibioracle, though!

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  9. I get those emails from both Chapters and Amazon, and in all honesty I typically delete them before I see what they recommend because usually their recommendations are often rather strange. It would be better if they took your ratings for books on their website and then used those to recommend other books to you.

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  10. I get those emails... and I promptly delete them now because, much like you've experienced, the suggested titles don't make much sense.

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  11. Once upon a time I used to spend ages going through my Amazon recs but not anymore. Too often the same books came up all the time, I guess because the publisher was paying additional or something like that?

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  12. I very rarely order books online anymore since I moved to the big city AND I can teleport them onto my Nook. However, Amazon was THE WORST for giving crap recommendations. Most of the time I would think, "Yeah, not even over my dead rotting corpse." Their algorithm needs work!

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  13. Although I enjoyed both of those books, so I don't see why one would be recommended for someone just because they liked the other one. Piccoult tends to get lumped in with chick lit in a lot of those recommendation systems though, even though her books are completely different. So, I agree that a lot of time those types of recommendations are crap, but I still like them. Maybe because my reading habits are rather ecletic, so even if the book doesn't make sense as a recommendation based on another book, I'll still be interested in reading about it. I don't base my purchasing decisions on such recommendations (unless it recommends a new book by a similar author that I already know I like), but might put something in my library queue as a result.

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