Memoirs by some guy who was employee #55 at Amazon.com. He was an in-house editor. Amazon wanted to have some folks on staff who could write up book reviews. This was before they let any bozo with an account write a book review. Folks were supposed to trust these reviews--sort of like when you go to a physical bookstore and there's a piece of paper stuck to a shelf saying "STAFF PICK!". It seems like a silly idea, but these were the beginning days of Amazon, and nobody really knew how a retail site was supposed to work. Merchants and customers were still figuring that stuff out. Are still figuring that stuff out.
This guy used to pick some book that appears on the Amazon front page. I found myself thinking, how presumptious to think that he should do such a thing. But recommendation engines weren't so great back then. Having some human pick one book a day to show to everybody--that was probably the best option they had at the time... Nowadays, I ignore the Amazon front page and click through to the recommendations. It's not exactly clear to me why there's still a "front page".
What? Oh, right, the book.
The book. He talks about the scandal when customers found out about the payola. Book publishers wanted their books to appear on the front page and on category pages. Depending on which books the Amazon editors picked, the book publishers would fork over payola. You might think that the big publishers are sleazy when they lie to authors about copyright--but they're sleazy in plenty of other contexts, too. Anyhow.
So there was this big editorial staff at Amazon. But they weren't as good as crowdsourcing. There are too many folks on the internets who will write book reviews for free. (Maybe I should point out that I found Harriet Vane's customer review of this book particularly on-target.)
So there was this big editorial staff at Amazon. And then there wasn't.
So this is the story of someone working at a fast-growing start-up--who finds out that he's part of an experiment that's not working out... This would be a pathetic story, but the author, James Marcus, is an engaging writer.
And it's a reminder about the entrepeneurial throw-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. I like this approach, it's a great thing to do with software. If you write some software that doesn't catch on, that's not a problem. But this approach, it doesn't work so well with people. If you say, "Hey, I know, let's hire a bunch of in-house editors" and that experiment doesn't work out, you're going to have to lay a bunch of people off. And that's hard. So I guess I'm saying don't throw people at the wall to see if they stick. Or something.
(Beware: Chapter 14 of this book is all about literary crap: What would Emerson have thought of the internet? You might not think you care about that idea now. You will care much less about it after you drag your eyeballs over Chapter 14. Things get going again after that, though.)
Labels: book, books, entrepeneurship, i miss ringo/homr