Mr. Amazon’s Bookshop: Another Conversation with Google

[This is the tenth episode of Mr. Amazon’s Bookshop. There will probably be another five or six before I’m done. A list of all episodes is here; the previous episode is here.]

I rang for Google who, as so often, appeared quicker than seemed reasonable, with his usual false air of subservience. 

“How the hell do you get here so quickly Google?” I demanded, slightly taken aback by the speed with which he materialized at my shoulder. 

“Oh, nothing special sir – I just keep a copy of myself close by in case you need anything. It may seem a little unusual, but it’s entirely neutral. Any other butler could do the same. Certainly no one is leveraging their unilateral control over your bell to hamper user choice, competition, and innovation.”

I often regret asking too many questions of Google. I never know when he is being funny and when he’s not. Usually I decide to treat his remarks as humour because life is just easier that way, but he has an excellent poker face so it’s hard to tell.

“Well, never mind. Listen, we have some questions for you. It’s about Mr. Amazon.”

Google’s face showed an instant distaste: “I’ll do what I can.”

I was just searching for the best way to phrase my questions when Kylie piped up.

“Hey Mr. G. We’re trying to find out whether Mr. Amazon’s recommendations are going to help me to sell lots of copies of The Adventures of Wazzock. We need to know some things about Mr. Amazon’s sales. Like how much he sells that you couldn’t get in a regular establishment bookshop.” She spat at Edmund as she said this last sentence.

“A fine question young miss. Let’s see. I am ashamed to say I know very little about Mr. Amazon’s sales in any detail. I have means to find out many things, but he seems capable of great secrecy. But from what I hear it is possible that he makes about 25% of his sales from books beyond the 100,000 mark. Such measurement depends greatly, of course, on what length of time the sales ranks are averaged over. A book that is positioned at 150,000 could easily put itself into the top 100,000 by a single sale – so do you count the sale as before or after the purchase? Still, I imagine the figure is not too far from the truth.”

“When it comes to real bookshops, a small independent bookshop may stock 30,000 titles. But of course they sell special orders too. Perhaps ten percent of their sales are special orders. A large chain store like Heather’s Big House O’Books may stock 100,000 titles. But there are larger ones still. I am told that Blackwells in Oxford, for example, stocks above 200,000 distinct titles in its shops on The Broad.”

“You’re a gem Mr. G. That’s what we need to know.”

“It is?” I asked.

“Obviously”, said Kylie. “Think a bit. He makes one sale in every four from outside the top 100 grand books. But when he mutters his ‘would you be interested’ guff, we look at these outsider books only about once in eight times. So he’s pushing the top sellers, innit? He’s only selling them others because he’s a convenient way to order books you already know about, which is probably just taking business from the regular bookshops where you might have ordered them before. And quit the boozing, we’ve got work to do.”

It took a moment before I realized she was talking to me. I sheepishly replaced the cap on the flask of cognac and returned it to my overcoat pocket.

“Hey shortbus,” Kylie was approaching Edmund, who flinched. “Let’s have a look at that other graph of yours. What’s it show?

Later on that day I managed to get a look at the graph, which I reproduce below. Meanwhile, Kylie was telling us all about it.

“So if I read this right, you’ve got your views of a book up the side, and your sales rank along the bottom. And most of the books Mr. Amazon shows us are bunched up at the left among the mainstream establishment junk, which we knew already. But it also shows that the ones he shows many times lot are almost all best sellers. Look at them buggers that have come up more than 50 times! Let’s see” (she scoured the notebook again, brow furiously furrowed.) “There’s 31 books that we looked at over 50 times. Twenty three of those 31 are in the top grand. All but two of them is in the top two grand. And I bet not one of them is The Adventures of Wazzock. He’s just showing everyone the establishment books innit? I thought he was all friendly to us kids, but it looks like he’s just like the bastard publishers! I should have known. He’s all about the money. What an absolute pillock.” She spat on the ground as she said this.

Such was her virulence I confess that I actually felt sorry for Mr. Amazon, who is after all just trying to make a living.

“Let’s not leap to conclusions young Kylie. After all, this is just one sample, like you said. Maybe if we set up the differ again and start with another one, we’ll see something different. And would you like an ice cream?”

Her expression remained ominously grim.

“I’m not being bought off with no ice cream. But you’re right Mr. W. We’ll have to try again. I’ll be back tomorrow morning. You be ready or else, numskull.” She kicked Edmund affectionately in the shins as she stomped off back down the drive.

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  1. Do you think Mr Amazon would consider publishing these installments…perhaps as an Omnibus? I eagerly await further adventures, your characterisation becomes more quixotic and the message more thought provoking (the few thoughts I have a easily provoked).

  2. Unlikely I think. Two reasons – first, I think they would need some evidence of high traffic, and Whimsley village is a pretty quiet spot. Second, I haven’t worked out how it finishes yet.

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