≡ Menu

The algorithm isn’t working for me


booksI’m a big reader, but every digital mechanism the book world has come up with doesn’t do much to make me want to buy books.

This makes no sense at all to me.

I’m in the game, but the bookstores don’t seem to be using the considerable information about me stored in their databases to do an effective job of selling me more books.

Why do I say this?

Because when I go back over the last 10 or 20 or 50 books I’ve purchased, not a single one was suggested by an email blast from the online bookstores, or by a suggestion when I visit their websites.

So where do I find out about books I might want to read?

Astonishingly, there is nothing digital at all about my discoveries. Instead, the suggestion chain is purely analog—some suggested by my wife, some by reviews in print publications, some recommended by friends, and a good many purchases after hearing authors discuss their books on—of all places—the radio! I don’t think social media has ever directed me to a single tome. Maybe it’s hard to distill the nut of a novel into 140 characters, and blogs don’t seem to do too good a job in this regard, either.

I don’t understand why the algorithm isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, why it’s not my primary source of suggestions. Certainly, it’s not because the companies aren’t trying. Is it that my reading tastes are too eclectic? I would think not. I read current events non-fiction, some history and biography, the occasional bestseller, and a fair amount of fiction, especially in the mystery and literary categories. Could my romps through the fields of written words be too wide-ranging for the algorithm?

It would be nice if the digital suggestions contained fewer books per email blast, and the online suggestions had more information on each book. The experience needs to more closely approximate what happened when I walked into a bookstore—back when there were bookstores—with books arrayed on tables and aisle endcaps competing for my attention. I can’t remember a trip to a bricks-and-mortar bookstore when I didn’t leave with far more books than I intended to buy when I walked in.

In the meantime, I’d like to see the retailers—who have so much of my money to gain—work on new ways to let me know what they think I might like.