Mr. Amazon’s Bookshop: Kylie Returns

[This is the ninth instalment of Mr. Amazon’s Bookshop. A list of all instalments is here; the previous instalment is here.]

I could hardly believe my bleary eyes when I entered the stable the next day — young Edmund was there already, sitting at the trestle table next to the differ controls, with my private notebook open in front of him! He may smudge it with his grubby gardener fingers, or drip his slimy gardener snot over my pages! I swatted him across the back of the hands with my switch (I always carry a switch). “Enough of that lad! What do you think you’re doing? Don’t meddle in matters you don’t understand.”

“Sorry Mr. Whimsley sir. I was just thinking, that’s all. And drawing.”

“Drawing! Drawing what?”

“Well, you were thinking about them books, right?”

“Yes, to put it simplistically, I concede you could say that.”

“Well, I drew some graphs for you. I like graphs. They have colours.”

“Graphs of what, you idiot? I do hope you’ve not been messing up my notebook!”

“Oh no sir. Here they are, in my own scrapbook.” He put a great big book onto the table and showed me. I was stunned: the airhead was apparently not entirely stupid. Here is what I saw.

I could not immediately discern what the graph was saying, so I demanded: “Explain this to me Edmund!”

“Well sir, I’m not entirely sure, but I was looking at this last night and it seems to me that you can use a graph like this to say something about whether Mr. Amazon is making culture more democratic or not. You know, like Kylie says.”

“You know that scold Kylie? How on earth?”

“Yes sir. At least, when we’re at school she always beats me up and takes my lunch money from me, and even though it’s summer holidays she turned up at my house yesterday because she said she was bored and wanted a reason to be pissed off at someone. I was looking at your notebook so she just took it. She’s a bit like that.”

“I had noticed. But wait a minute! You had my notebook? What kind of effrontery is that?”

“Well, judging from how loud you were snoring and the level of the scotch bottle on the table in the conservatory you weren’t going to be needing it, so I thought I might be able to help you a little.”

I brandished the switch, but restrained myself.

“Tell me the rest, vagabond.”

“Well Kylie, she looks at it, and she says ‘This is T’owd Git’s innit?'”

“T’owd Git?”

“That’s what we all call you in the village. I’m not sure what it means. Something like “his lordship” but more affectionate I think. Anyway, she stared at it for some time and muttered to herself and then looked at me and said in this really grim voice, ‘The median salesrank is crap. And the distribution is scanty. There are too many repeats here. Something’s not right.’ Then she gave it back to me and slapped my on the head.”

“Median distribution? What could she mean?”

“I don’t know sir, but I think she’s coming up here soon to talk to you about it. She’s not right pleased.”

Sure enough, who was coming up the driveway but Kylie, striding purposefully, arms swinging and fingers clenching. She entered the stable and stood, arms crossed, staring pugnaciously up at me.

“Well Mr. W. Looks like we have a problem don’t it?”

“What’s that, Kylie? This is really too early in the morning for stressful conversations. Can’t it wait?”

“Either you don’t know what you’re doing with that differ of yours” – she gestured dismissively towards my magnificent machine – or Mr. Amazon ain’t what I hoped he’d be. Now between you and me, guv’nor, Mr. Amazon looks a lot more likely to be the goods than you do. But I’ve got a lot riding on The Adventures of Wazzock and I need to know for sure. That’s why I’m here.”

“I don’t know what you mean? Amazon is a prim little functionary, while I am a scholar and a gentleman.”

“Right you are. So he’s got an eye on the ready and you’re just pissing about, when you’re not blotto that is.” She nodded at my overcoat pocket, where my cognac flask created, I fear, a slight bulge.

“And one other thing. That notebook of yours said it was volume 49 number 11, so I’m thinking you do a lot of writing. I bet you’re going to write this whole escapade down in one of them notebooks of yours ain’t you?”

“Well, the thought had crossed my mind,” I admitted.

“Well I bet you make a reet mess of the way I speak. I bet it’s nowt like how I sound. I bet you can’t even decide what part of the country I come from.”

“Never mind that, young lady. Back to your visit. I have a proposal.”

She raised her left eyebrow quizzically.

“Three things. First, you get to take part in my grand inquisition here. I’d be lying if I told you that I like Mr. Amazon, but I do want to be fair and you may be able to help balance my enthusiasms.”

“Fair enough.”

“Second, you stop taking young Edmund’s lunch money.” The gormless youngster was positively cowering from Kylie, and a small part of me felt almost protective of the rabbit-like idiot.

“No problem. He never has much anyway.” She glanced scornfully and dismissively in the oaf’s direction. “Relax, prat. I’ll leave you be.” Edmund gave a long and relieved sigh.

“And third, you promise to work with us as a team.”

“No sweat guv’nor. Let’s get to work. Show me what you’ve got.”

I brought out my notebook and Edmund’s scrapbook. She snatched them both and took them into the corner and stared fixedly at them for ten minutes. I was a little affronted, but Kylie was such a hellion that I dared not interrupt, so I pretended to be inspecting and oiling the differ. Finally, she emerged.

“Right Mr. W. First thing. Your method is crap. You obviously have no idea about proper statistics. You look like you’re making it up as you go along.”

“But the differ…”

“But let’s put that aside. I don’t see that other methods are going to give information that’s much different. The best way to know what Mr. A. is up to is to look inside his operation, but even I don’t know how to do that, so I’m sure you haven’t got a clue. Without that kind of insider info, this will have to do. The problem is not collecting information, it’s knowing what questions you want to ask of it once you’ve collected it.”

“Well why don’t you tell me your ideas, since you seem to have such a low opinion of mine.”

“Right you are then. You’ve got a couple of good things, here in this  scrapbook. Funny how your handwriting is getting better, and these graphs are very nice. Is this your neat copy or what?” Fortunately she did not give me a chance to answer.

“This graph. Here’s the way I see it. You’ve got about 10,000 book views here. That’s books Mr. A. has recommended and that you’ve picked up to look at. The median sales rank is 2120. That means about half of all the book views in this shop, the one that’s grown from Special Topics in Crap Physics or whatever, is spent in the top 2000 sellers. Now 2000 is a small number.”

“No it ain’t,” the stunted moron interjected, “it’s a bloody big number.” 
Kylie paused. “Unbelievably, you may be right, blockhead. First thing we do, we find
out how big a number 2000 is. And there are some other numbers too. Four fifths of the time is spent looking at books in the top 30,000. And just over an eighth of the time is spent looking at books outside the top 100,000. So are these big numbers or what?”
“I believe I can help.” I had been caught a little off-balance with this flurry of numbers and thoughts, but righted myself quickly to reassert my natural authority. “I have just the person who can tell us these things. My butler is a whiz when it comes to trivia.”
“Is that Mr. Google?” asked Kylie, “Yeah, he’s smart. Let’s go find him and ask.”

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