Saturday, March 14, 2009

Amazon obsession

The US/UK Parentonomics releases have afforded me, as an author, more information than I should probably be allowed to have regarding the book. This comes from the online selling options. One benefit of these is that they allow potential readers to learn more about the book. For instance, here you can be shown a random page of the book.

But for me there is more information too. And this is a problem which my publisher has diagnosed as a common afflication amongst authors: CARCD or 'compulsive Amazon rank checking disorder.' The first step to getting better is to admit you have a problem and hence this blog post.

So let's start with the Amazon sales rank. I'll make your life difficult by not providing a link but that is mainly because it fluctuates wildly between the 250,000 mark and the 10,000 mark (and today it is on the bad end of that one). This is hardly surprising. As there is no mainstream publicity yet, the potential readership of the book is really confined to the readers of this blog. (And yes, just in case you are one of the estimated 3 readers out there with a Kindle, it will be there too, hopefully in the next few weeks).

More critically, however, there are the Amazon reviews; the cause of another related CARCD (here, 'compulsive Amazon review checking disorder'). Now there is an interesting phenomenon going on here: accepting criticism. Those of you who are academics know that most academic work is subject to a level of criticism that is, compared to ordinary discourse, quite extreme and can border on the abusive. I have many such critiques levied at me during the course of peer review and I am quite accepting of them, take them in to consideration and then move on.

For some reason, despite their incredibly mild and good nature, I find myself far more obsessed with Amazon reviewers than I have been with the opinion of my academic colleagues! This is even more ridiculous given that there are 8, yes only eight, reviews there right now. And what is more, the majority are positive. Indeed, even the person who disliked the book the most wrote:
I was really looking forward to Parentonomics. I wasn't expecting a serious discussion of parenting or economics but I was disappointing because it was light on both.

To be fair, the author does explain in the preface that the idea for the book came out of a blog and that it's not a parenting book and that he has no particular expertise and hasn't performed research in the area of economics as it applies to parenting/children.
Basically, the book wasn't for them. Fair enough. And there was this one who was hoping for something more like Freakonomics.
That said, it's not a bad book. Fast and light reading. Something like a modern Erma Bombeck perhaps. There are enough funny bits to keep you engaged, but if you are expecting Steven Levitt or Malcolm Gladwell, keep looking....
Which is very true. The only thing the book has in common with Freakonomics is the 'onomics. But let's face it, Levitt and Dubner have defined the brand there. I had figured having a whimsical title would be cautionary enough not to expect seriousness but seriousness is what the market gets with even more whimsical titles and so there is some, now apparent, consumer confusion.

My main obsession with the Amazon reviews is driven by the fact that they are spot on. One review writes that the book reads "like a sort of less-funny Dave Barry column." True, how could it not be? And goes on:
This book is all sizzle, no steak. I give it three stars for being an enjoyable read, but cannot give it five stars since it did not meet my expectations for the purpose of the book.
I don't disagree with that even if I hoped that more actually liked the book. Yep, I was going for 'sizzle.' The reviewers actually appreciated the book for what it was and it isn't for everyone. (Actually, that reviewer appears to have a blog with an excellent post about Star Trek upcoming movie fear that I am feeling a close affinity with). And all this reminds me of this great Malcolm Gladwell talk on differences in consumer tastes. One product can't satisfy everyone.

That said, I'm not above trying to game the market. Apparently, the more reviews the merrier in terms of getting Amazon's attention, so I want to encourage anyone who has read the book to pop one up. I'll be sure to obsess over it.