Searching for Philip K. Dick: Amazon vs. everyone else

Great review in yesterday’s Times of the new movie The Adjustment Bureau. Lots of people will be interested in reading the Philip K. Dick story, called “Adjustment Team”, that the movie is loosely based on, and I spent some time seeing what they’ll find when they go looking. Imagine a customer searches one of the big bookselling websites for the name of the movie or the name of the story:

  • Search B&N.com for Adjustment Team, the name of the story, and the site doesn’t lead you to a book containing the story; the only result is something else entirely. Search for Adjustment Bureau, which is what more customers will likely do, and the top four results are apparently different formats of an audio version, at three different prices, and there is no data or content on the title pages  to explain what they are.  In other words you’re hit with metadata flotsam, data that has flowed through from one of B&N’s providers that does not give a customer understanding of what the items are. And you don’t find a book with the story.
  • On Kobo, neither Adjustment Team nor Adjustment Bureau searches bring back anything by Philip K. Dick on the first page of results. At Indiebound, the story name brings back something unrelated and the movie name brings back a 92 page, $43 edition of dubious origin that appears to be a printed Wikipedia article .
  • At Google ebookstore, a search for the story name does bring back The Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick from Random House, a collection that includes the story, as the first result. But searching the name of the movie brings you to a bunch of unrelated titles.
  • Now try Amazon. Type in Adjustment, and the search box dropdown’s top two choices are The Adjustment Bureau and Adjustment Team (lots of people searching both this week!). Choose either one and you get The Selected Stories as the third result, but above that, the first result is the short story as a 99 cent Kindle purchase. Ding ding ding! As far as I can tell, Amazon was apparently able to produce and sell this because the story has become public domain, for complicated reasons explained in this Wikipedia entry (though, unlike other Dick stories, it’s not available at Project Gutenberg, so I’m not sure whether that Wiki entry is right.) Very smart of Amazon to offer that in time for the movie (shows a pub date of Jan 16, 2011), and to ensure searching either name brings it back on search results. Anticipating the movie’s release, they set up search rules and/or tags on the titles to direct a search for the movie title to those books. Very smart and effective.
  • In summary, Amazon wins at 1) immediate discovery through search, 2) product offer of a 99 cent e-option for just the story, OR the hardcover OR e-book story collection (OR, actually a rare edition of the original publication, yet another option for a collector) 3) anticipating demand for the story and ensuring customers would quickly find something to buy.

I will be writing about Borders shortly, and about indie bookstores’ ongoing battle with Amazon. One big front of everyone’s battle with Amazon is pricing. But this example shows that another, possibly larger, front is the sheer effectiveness of Amazon’s shopping experience. Type what you’re looking for into the big search box and they’re much likelier to return what you’re looking for than the competition. Don’t understimate how hard that is to match.

Further explanatory notes if you’re really into this sort of thing:

  • The Google ebookstore search for Adjustment Team search led to Selected Stories, I think, because those keywords appear in the synopsis from Random House on the title page. B&N has the same synopsis on their title page but their search engine apparently doesn’t search that text, so there is therefore no match, and the customer won’t find the book. Kobo and B&N both list the story’s title in their e-book table of contents but again, apparently the search engine apparently isn’t hitting that data. Customer satisfaction failure.
  • Interestingly, Amazon’s page for the Kindle edition of Selected Stories doesn’t list the Contents, which both Kobo and B&N do, so there’s no list of included stories, which is not customer-friendly. But a customer, Doug, took the time in 2005 to list the individual stories as a review. That review has risen to the top of the reviews section, as 172 customers have rated it as helpful. Another pillar of Amazon strength–gadrillions of user reviews, containing not only opinions but valuable supplementary information helping other customers make a buying decision. Well-cared for data + powerful, effective search + mountains of user content + smart anticipation of demand = many sales lost to Amazon.

3 responses to “Searching for Philip K. Dick: Amazon vs. everyone else

  1. Great post, Mark. I couldn’t agree more that Amazon won here (and in many other cases) because they delivered on a basic customer expectation better than everyone else. It wasn’t about price or functionality; it was just helping customers find what they’re looking for.

  2. Thanks, Kevin, I appreciate the comment.

  3. Pingback: More on Adjustment Team | Metamorphic Books

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