Tag Archives: amazon

Amazon and the ‘see inside’ function – now you see it, now you don’t

The winner of the FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award for 2013 was Brad Stone’s book about Amazon. I haven’t read the book but you can get a feel for it from the trail the FT gives for it here.

No-one would argue that Amazon has transformed the way we buy, read and use books. Also doubtless there are students writing theses about the various social and business implications of how Amazon has influenced the book industry and associated activities, such as studying, writing and publishing.

I’d just like to focus for a few seconds on the ‘look inside’ feature which allows potential buyers to browse inside books. Most usefully, when this feature is activated there is quite a lot material available to the potential purchaser, and it often includes the index. I have referred to many such indexes while I have been looking at potentially award-winning books. However, in many cases you only get to look at the Kindle version of the book, and as the Kindle version doesn’t carry an index, you can’t see the index for the physical book, even if that was the version you wanted to buy.

As a member of the Society of Indexers I have to say that pretty much all non-fiction books should have an index, and the presence of a good index can be a selling point when it comes to deciding to buy a book. However, wilfully restricting the access of potential buyers to the ‘view inside’ without an index may mean that said buyers will not continue to value indexes, not require them or demand them in books and instead be content to buy e-books without proper indexes. If you are someone who likes to see the index when you ‘look inside’ and you get frustrated when it isn’t there, please make your feelings known to Amazon by using the ‘feedback’ button on the Amazon Reader page for the book you are looking at.

The future of non-fiction electronic publishing is not cut and dried, there’s a long way to go yet. There is a lot of information about the efforts of the Society of Indexers and others on the Publishing Technology Group‘s website. Its remit is to advise Society of Indexers members, publishers and authors on reconciling powerful text retrieval techniques with emerging delivery technologies in publishing.

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FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year 2013

I had high hopes for this list, with a prize of £30K awarded on 18 November. The award should go to ‘the book that is judged to have provided the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues’, so current affairs that readers really might want to refer back to in the near or perhaps distant future. My comments on the indexes in the shortlisted books follow:

  • The Alchemists: Inside the secret world of central bankers by Neil Irwin (Headline publishing) – a professional-looking index, done in what I think of as the US style with all the headings starting with a capital letter, which works OK in this context, but can lead to terms looking more important than they actually are. Some nice cross-referencing going on – ‘Employment losses’ directs to ‘Unemployment’, ‘Super Mario Brothers’ directs to ‘Draghi, Mario; Monti, Mario’.
  • Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cuckier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – another professional-looking index. Not many examples of undifferentiated locators, so perhaps the entries that had them couldn’t be given subheadings. Some use of double entry to make it easier to locate information, for example ‘marine navigation’ has a main entry, and also a subheading under ‘Maury, Matthew Fontaine’ and all the subheadings under ‘correlation analysis’ also appear as main headings.
  • The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan – print book not available to look inside on Amazon.
  • The Everything Store by Brad Stone – sadly for a book about Amazon you couldn’t see the print book when I first wrote this blog in November 2013. By late January 2014 the ‘look inside’ version was available and you can see a detailed index, quite heavy on names of people, brands and products and with some undifferentiated locators for some of the subheadings. But at least the feature has been enabled.
  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen) – Some examples of undifferentiated locators, for example ‘Facebook’ gathers 30. Sandberg works for Facebook, so it was obviously going to feature in the book. But without subheadings the browsing reader can’t see what she’s written about it. This is odd, given that some headings accrued masses of subheadings for a relatively small number of locators overall, for example ‘parenting’ where 14 subheadings have been teased out and three of them cover aspects of ‘stay-at-home’. So the indexing is a little uneven, although it may reflect the contents of the book.
  • Making it Happen by Iain Martin – print book not available to look inside on Amazon.

Something of a shame that there are only 3 available to ‘see inside’ on Amazon. The winner was the book about Amazon by Brad Stone.