Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book thoughts from the Book(ie)

I was reading the comments yesterday on “Book(ie) Chick: Day Three” and Maya’s mention of Dick Francis made me laugh. You see, we’re not allowed to read between calls (that’s not what they’re paying us for), and instead are encouraged to learn more about the betting systems we employ. Their desire to educate us is so strong that they’ve asked us all to sign up for the company’s sister site that allows you to make bets on actual races with fake money. The guy across from me keeps winning big, while my results are…indifferent at best. Quite possibly because I’m indifferent to the whole betting process and keep just randomly picking horses.

“Huh, that one has a nice name, I’ll go with him.”


“I don’t think I’ve bet on the fifth horse yet, let’s give it a try.”

Real scientific. No wonder I’m not winning. Of course, I’m not really losing either as most of my bets have been in the one dollar range.

Still, I don’t think the bosses will believe me if I claim the Dick Francis novels were part of my horse racing education. They’d probably make me read a thoroughbred magazine instead. It’s really too bad that I’m not a horse-crazy five year old anymore because I sure would have devoured that magazine back then. Now I just occasionally look at the races on the TV in my cubicle and think, “Pretty horse,” before going on with my business.

Still, interacting with the company’s gambling site has made me think about different book sites out there, especially Amazon. Booksquare brought up an interesting point in her recent column on Amazon, saying in regards to the changes made to their plog set up:

“Amazon has not yet truly embraced the key aspect of Web 2.0: community. We get that the site exists to sell stuff; the problem is that the continual push toward commercial transactions tends to destroy community-building efforts.”

Horse racing—any gambling at all, really—isn’t a community activity because the person placing the bet is looking out for number one: him or herself. You’re playing the odds to try to beat the house or fate and pick the winning card or horse to earn a significant (or insignificant) payout. Most of the people I deal with on a day to day basis bet at home from their computers or TVs, and never interact with others in the betting circle. And why should they? Why should they share the information they have which “indicates” a winner when having other people bet on your lucky pony might increase the odds on the horse which would decrease the amount of payout (a winning horse ranked 20/1 will have a better payout then the odds on favorite ranked 2/1). Still the site is set up to provide everything the bet-maker might need to make an informed decision on the horse he’s picked. Not only does s/he get the main line odds (those set from the beginning) and the current odds (those set by which horses receive the most bets), but also the names of the jockeys, their weights, access to information about their past performances, the names of trainers and their past performances, and anything you could possibly want to know about the horses. A little more searching and you can also find access to weather conditions at the track and assorted other details.

Don’t want to look or don’t have time? Call your friendly customer service rep: me.

Horses are easy to quantify: you can look at their past races, the weight of their jockeys, the odds based on how they performed that morning. Books are harder because what might appeal to people is harder to define. Amazon is looking for that definition, but appears to be missing the point. Why don’t all the book pages have the back cover copy? Why not add widget that allows a person to go read a sample chapter?

Quantify—in some way—why people who bought book A also bought book B by adding some sort of move that allows you to bring up customer comparison comments.

Yes, this is all still in an effort to sell books and not necessarily build a community, but we don’t give out horse stats so all the bettors will feel the need to sing Kum-bah-ya and get along. We give out the horse stats so people can bet.

You give what people want book-wise so they’ll feel like they’re making an informed buy.

I don’t miss the plogs because I feel that many were underused and I almost always forgot they were at the bottom of the page anyway. I’ll admit I’m just now learning how to use the Wish List feature because I needed to show my mom who has discovered the joys of the free trial period Amazon Prime. She’s a prime example of why back cover copy and excerpts should be linked to the site as she tries to make informed buying decisions about the books she’s looking at.

What are your thoughts on the whole Amazon monstrosity? Does it need to be changed and how? What would you do differently?

Are the book site out there (whether for brick and mortar stores or online only set ups) that get this right and make the community aspect work?

I’d love to focus my thoughts more, but I’ve got to go place some fake horse bets, so give me your opinion.

P.S. Guess whose book I saw on the front table at Borders yesterday?

Marta Acosta’s Midnight Brunch! Congrats, Marta. The blood drop on the edge of the plate was very eye-catching.


Ms. Librarian said...

I choose horses by bloodline and racing record (yeah, I read the Thoroughbred Record when I go to the track).

My mom used to bet on horses ridden by jockeys she liked (with good winning records). There are worse ways to pick horses.

Maya Reynolds said...

It's your turn to make me laugh.

My first job out of college was in a stock brokerage firm. We had a group of Lookie Lou types who would come in every day to read the electronic board and the tear sheets on the different stocks. They'd sit in a group discussing this stock and that stock. One old guy was always pontificating about how the market was doing. He practically lived at our office, showing up at 9 AM and staying until the market closed.

I mentioned him to his broker one day and asked if he was any good at picking stocks. The broker laughed and said the real stock picker in the family was his wife whose portfolio was worth four times what his was. They had both started out with the same amount in their IRAs. He made his purchases based on technical analysis. She made hers based on the businesses she knew and liked. She'd bought Eckerd Drugs when it was only a small Florida drugstore chain, and she bought Wal-Mart because she thought they offered good value for the money. Her husband spent his days reading about the market. She trusted her gut.

Maya Reynolds said...

Oh, I forgot to comment on your question.

I think Amazon is poised on the brink of real possibility. They are due to release their new e-reading device soon. For a while they were calling it "the Kindle." I don't know what they're calling it these days.

If it is as good as the rumors claim, it has the potential to grab the book-reading public's attention the way the iPod did the music-playing public's. The possibilities are almost unlimited in terms of Amazon because THIS reader is supposed to be able to read all formats instead of the proprietary kinds of e-readers that have come out before it (Sony, are you listening?).

I think that's why Amazon is making the changes to their website. They're getting ready. Just my opinion.