Savvy Computing
The Brave New World of Book Buying

January 2004
by Reid Goldsborough

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“Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other…. For every thing that is given, something is taken,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1841 essay “Self-Reliance.”

The newest application of this old wisdom involves the world of book buying, now that Amazon.com, the Web’s best e-commerce site, and also the world’s largest bookseller, has introduced new features that make book buying even more enjoyable, convenient, and economical. These same features have some book authors, and some publishers, reaching for their poison pens.

Amazon.com for some time has done a great job of providing context about a book to help visitors make a buying decision. Unlike in a bookstore, potential buyers at Amazon have been able to search quickly for books by title, author, and subject, and with any books that look interesting, they’ve been able to read reviews by professional book reviewers and fellow readers. With many books, they have also been able to browse through a limited number of pages to see if the author’s writing style fits their expectations.

But the new “Search Inside the Book” function–which lets a visitor type in a search term and have Amazon.com access any page containing it, plus the two preceding and the two following pages–seems, to some authors and publishers, to be taking context provision too far.

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