Tom Waits and Amazon Customer Reviews

Chapter 10 excerpts a quote from Tom Waits in order to express my misgivings about the applications of number theory to e-commerce.  Here is the complete quote (from the Guardian, October 23, 2011):

They [referring to online services] have removed the struggle to find anything. And therefore there is no genuine sense of discovery. Struggle is the first thing we know getting along the birth canal, out in the world. It’s pretty basic. Book store owners and record store owners used to be oracles, in that way; you’d go in this dusty old place and they might point you toward something that would change your life. All that’s gone.

In their place we now have Customer Reviews.  The volunteer reviewers receive neither salaries nor fringe benefits.  Nor do they have specialized qualifications as “oracles,” although many of them obviously care deeply about books.

Much of the book is about mixed feelings, some of which I share with my colleagues, while others are mine alone.  If my work had applications in cryptology I wouldn’t be proud to learn that it had contributed to driving independent bookstores out of business; on the other hand, maybe this makes it easier for some people to buy books.  To these mixed feelings, which predate the publication of my book, I can now add the knowledge that, however my principles may evolve, Amazon rankings will have a strong influence on how my book is perceived.

So now I can’t help wondering why as of today (March 12, 2015) my book has received only one Amazon Customer Review, although quite a lot of people I know bought their copies on Amazon, and not at their local independent bookstore that probably isn’t carrying it and moreover went out of business years ago.

[ADDED 6 HOURS LATER:  I guess I had better explain that the last paragraph is intended to be read ironically and not literally.]

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8 thoughts on “Tom Waits and Amazon Customer Reviews

  1. Aaron

    Your book is a difficult read so I imagine a lot of potential reviewers don’t feel competent to really judge it. The audience that such a review is likely to attract makes it even more intimidating.

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  2. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

    I think I know what you mean, but I’m not sure “difficulty” is at issue. A lot of genuinely difficult books have many reviews, and scholarly books that are the product of a lifetime of meticulous research don’t intimidate potential reviewers. I think it has more to do with readers’ expectations, and I’m really curious about that.

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