Monday, June 27, 2011

Amazon's Best Kindle books of 2011, so far

Amazon's Editors' Picks for "Best Kindle Books of 2011... So Far... between January and June."

Half of their favorite books to date, they say, "were written by debut authors. All books were released for the first time between January 1 and June 30.

 If curious, click for their picks

Kindle 3's   (UK: Kindle 3's)   K3 Special ($114)   K3-3G Special ($164)   DX Graphite

Check often: Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. If Amazon has editors, what do they edit?

    If they edit books that Amazon publishes, I'd look suspiciously for bias toward their own. If they edit some periodical, then what is it? I've never heard of an Amazon magazine.

    I suspect these editors have desks in the marketing department. These are books, particularly from new authors, that Amazon wants to see sell better. Perhaps they see merit in them, but increased sales is still their primary motivation. There is nothing wrong with what they are doing, but it is quite different from 'editor's picks' that the New York or Wall Street Journal might release. Staff Picks would be a better name. That's what Apple calls their in-house app selections.

    The real problem is that Amazon is not and has never been a real bookstore. Small bookstores have an owner who screens what goes into his stock. Larger bookstores have staff who do that. In both cases, poorly done trash gets sent back and their publishers sometimes blacklisted as publishing nothing worth looking at. Real bookstores provide publishing with much needed quality control, even if part of their motivation is limited shelf space.

    Amazon does none of that and never has. As recent news stories have pointed out, it is extremely easy to game Amazon's system with texts stolen from copyrighted books, with pseudo-books slapped together from free online sources such as Wikipedia, and with hideously poorly OCRed public domain texts.

    Amazon will not only sell that trash, the only real filtering that Amazon does, their search engine, is deliberately programmed to push titles that give Amazon the highest profit margin, irrespective of quality. That's not my surmise. I live in Seattle and I've had Amazon staff tell me precisely that.

    The best indication of that Amazon isn't yet serving as a real bookstore are the roughly half-million General Books titles Amazon carries and that Amazon's search engine pushes, thanks to the grossly inflated prices of General's woeful print editions.

    See for yourself. Go to Amazon's advance search and search for General Books as the publisher. Note what you see. Then use Google to go to the General Books website and check out its FAQ. General is quite honest about the fact that their books are filled with typos and missing pages, as well as lacking a contents, illustrations and index. Why? Because they know Amazon doesn't care that what General 'publishes' and Amazon sells is trash.

    Amazon is, of course, free to have a policy to sell every title on the market. After all, it does have virtually unlimited shelf space. But, 'editors' or not, it should not to be taken seriously as a bookstore unless it makes an effort to warn readers about trash titles, push those titles down many pages in their search results, and have clear warnings about their quality.

  2. At the opposite extreme from any best book list is the need for something like a worst book list. Amazon could also do something practical that'd effectively screen out a lot of this ebook trash. It could offer ebook authors and publishers two levels of online availability.

    One would be free (as now), but would rank low in search results and come with a prominent disclaimer about the book not being screened for quality or copying issues. That'd effectively deal with the General Books-type books, whether their publishers are large or small. They wouldn't want to pay for a review and wouldn't like the result if they did.

    The other would have publishers paying a roughly $50 fee, all of which would go to independent screeners who check it for quality (i.e. layout, OCR typos etc.) and copying/copyright issues. Yes, quite a few small publishers don't have much money to spare, but $50 is a small part of the cost of creating a quality book and the resulting ranking would pay for itself in increased sales. I know, since that's what I do for a living.

    The result would be an ebook rating in various areas that would inform readers about what they're getting. Buying ebooks from Amazon would no longer be buying a 'pig in a poke.'

    This would be nothing new. Amazon already has a program that works much like that, their Vine product reviewers. (Disclaimer: I am one.) Reviewers get free samples in exchange for an online review. And not just anyone can become one. Vine reviewers are drawn from top-rated book reviewers and, from what I have seen, they do a good job, taking care to describe accurately rather than just gush praise.

    Creating something like Vine for ebooks and making a review or not choice part of the upload process wouldn't be that hard to do. As ebooks, they would cost Amazon nothing to create or ship, hence my suggestion that the entire fee go to the reviewer. Like Vine, the ranking would include a link to the reviewer and his/her other reviews. Reviewers would even have the option of adding a written review, something ebooks desperately need to sell well.

    For authors and publishers who care about what goes out under their name, this would be a benefit that'd be well worth the cost. They'd get the recognition they deserve. The copyright thieves and makers of trash would get exposed, one way or another, for what they are.


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