Blackberry Hacks
The Search, by John Battelle

Amazon’s “Compare Similar Items” Feature

Amazon seems to be experimenting with this interesting feature that allows you to do side-by-side comparisons of books. As of this morning, the button to access this only seems to pop up below the covers in a list of Top Sellers (e.g., Computers & Internet Top Sellers, Business & Investing Top Sellers). Click on the button and a small window pops up listing two other titles Amazon feels are worthy of comparison to the title you’re viewing. For example, the pop-up list for Freakonomics includes The World is Flat and Blink. Select any combination of those three titles from the list and Amazon displays a nice comparison page listing title, cover, availability, average customer review, sales rank and a brief description. So, what’s missing?…

How about the ability to search for index entries? For example, I’m looking at Google books and I want to see which one has more coverage of AdWords. Why not add a text entry field in that comparison pop-up window where I can search for an index entry or two? The results page would then show all instances of “AdWords” in the indexes of the books I’m comparing. I can see that one title has twice as much coverage of AdWords as the other, so I know which book is right for me.

Amazon has the ability to do this. After all, in order to support their Search Inside feature, they’ve scanned in the full contents a huge number of the books they sell. Why not connect this functionality with the comparison feature? It’s been proven many times over the years that indexes and index comparisons are an important step in the purchasing decision. Table of contents (toc’s) reviews are right up there too. Maybe Amazon could add a search option for toc’s in the comparison pop-up as well.

This simple enhancement not only adds to the attractiveness of the Amazon shopping experience, but it again helps them turn a perceived weakness (you don’t have the books in your hands to compare them like you would in a physical store) into a strength (let Amazon’s system do the comparison for you).


 Dave Taylor

I just wonder how relevant this comparison system will be. The only meaningful similarity between Freakonomics, The World is Flat and Blink is that they're all trade business titles. Is that enough to be useful to a reader?

Now in focused areas like tech, I can see a comparison of 2-3 HTML or Java books to have some value, but I am still skeptical as to the overall utility of this new feature.

Michael Miller

I'm with Dave on this. How does comparing mystery titles, or romance books, or anything fiction make any sense whatsoever? Even in the non-fiction world, the vast majority of "trade nonfiction" is unique enough to make comparisons with other titles irrelevant. Perhaps in some segements of the how-to/reference market, maybe, there's value. But in general, I don't see why most readers would even think of comparing the equivalent of apples and doorknobs to each other.

Joe Wikert

Sure, I don't see the value in comparing two romance novels either, but I definitely see the benefits of using it for the type of books my group publishes (technology ones). Dave/Mike, I think you guys both know the importance of a good TOC/index in a tech book. Just watch customers as they make a purchase decision in a store, for example. You don't see the same process take place in the sci-fi, romance, etc., sections. Of course not. But, I can see where computer book buyers will get some value from this. I don't think it's limited to computer books, btw. What if you're interested in learning more about 401K's for your retirement? Wouldn't it be nice to see which of the top investing books have the most coverage of 401K's? I'd certainly use that comparison feature, and I know I'd do the same in the store. There are plenty of other examples, but, I would totally agree that the current comparison feature (without TOC/index capabilities) is next to worthless. That's why I hope they expand the functionality.

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