a call to amazon, and publishers

As i swooned earlier, Amazon’s decision to allow text-based search was brilliant. Unfortunately, not all publishers have agreed.

Currently, i am sitting amidst 15 (yes, i counted) anthropology, rhetoric and philosophy books. I own these books; i have read large chunks of these books, underlining points that were relevant then. But here i am, trying to construct a meaningful response to whether or not culture is an ensemble of texts (recursively), frustrated. Why am i frustrated? I am frustrated because i _know_ that the tool to find the various quotes floating in my head to support my argument exists, but that publishers have prohibited it. (A moment of silence for ignorance is bliss.)

Here’s what i propose.

Amazon, you know what books i’ve bought, or at least a large chunk of them. You currently use this to successfully incite me to buy more books. Why not let me search _my_ books, regardless of the publisher’s opinion?

One might ask why Amazon would want to do this. Silly, silly. This would motivate me to buy ALL of my books from Amazon, particularly those dense theoretical texts that are dreadfully indexed.

One might ask why publishers would want to do this. Why? Because i’m now keeping tabs of which publishers are cruel and am far more incented to buy books when i know that i can search them. This actually affected my decision between two anthologies last week.

The biggest uproar over Amazon’s decision is one of copyright fear. Fine. I understand if a publisher is worried that the searchability of certain types of texts might discourage someone from buying the book, but in the purchasing of my books, i already have permission to the copyright. Now, i simply want easier access. Trust me, folks, if you can give me ‘grep’ on my books, i’ll never switch to a digital format. The smell of paper is just too enticing.

::sigh:: Because of Basic Books and The University of Chicago Press, i’m back to screaming ‘grep’ at Geertz and Levi-Strauss. This could be a lot easier…

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10 thoughts on “a call to amazon, and publishers

  1. Jeff

    I am totally in love with this idea. I’d settle for a page number and a few sentences of context… well, that and a pre-written citation!

  2. Ian Grove-Stephensen

    Well, I am a publisher (not in your area, unfortunately) and I’m listening. In fact I will go one step better – I’ll put my entire list of 400 titles onto a public website as print-locked PDFs, so Google can index them. We’ve tried this with samples already and been really pleased with the results. We lose a few sales from people who then read them online, but against that we generate a lot of good will and a lot of site traffic we would not otherwise have had. It’ll take about three months to complete the project, so watch this space!

  3. John Battelle

    You are right, and I think this is one of the main reasons why Amazon is doing this in the first place. I’d love to load my library into a “I own these dammit” database, so I can put my reading/bricollage on steroids!

  4. John Battelle

    You are right, and I think this is one of the main reasons why Amazon is doing this in the first place. I’d love to load my library into a “I own these dammit” database, so I can put my reading/bricollage on steroids!

  5. Rayne

    Don’t know if this helps at all. Frithof Capra defines culture under the chapter, Social Reality in his book, The Hidden Connections:

    Four our systemic analysis of social reality we need to focus on the antrhopological meaning of culture, which the Columbia Encyclopedia defines as “the integrated system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rule of conduct that delimit the range of accepted behaviors in any given society.” When we explore the details of this definition, we discover that culture arises from a complex, highly nonlinear dynamic. It is created by a social network involving multiple feedback loops through which values, beliefs and rules of condut are continually communicated, modified, and sustained. It emerges from a network of communications among individuals; and as it emerges, it produces constraints on their actions. In other words, the social structures, or rules of behavior, that constrain the actions of individuals are produced and continually reinforced by their own network of communications.” (pg. 86-87)

    There’s a bit more; he compares culture to cell membrane as a boundary, but non-physical. You note he’s discussing culture at large, not just texts.

    Brings to mind several questions: 1) how much of culture is not written, communicated on verbal-only or non-verbal/non-written basis? 2) how much of culture does not survive beyond a relatively small number of iterations and therefore is not recursive? 3) written culture begins from some point, a place where recursion stops – where is that, and is it possible that recursion can go back beyond the origins of writing?

    I can think of at least one other text I should check; I’ll post if I can find what I’m looking for. Email me the query if you are open to more help. Best ~

  6. hakank.blogg

    Online-bcker: ZDNet: TechUpdate

    ZDNet: TechUpdate: Online books r en Online Books Reference Library. (Notera att URL:en inte tillhr zdnet.com, utan books24x7.com.) Hr r ngra findings. Man fr, efter en fri registrering, se innehllet i en massa bcker, mestadels IT-relaterade in…

  7. Rayne

    Another potential resource: A New Kind of Science, Stephen Wolfram, Chap. 12, Section: Intelligence in the Universe — thinking of text in culture as part of a reiterative set of scripts…

    Best of luck ~

  8. marty


    The Best Search Idea Since Google
    How Amazon can make money from books you already own.
    By Steven Johnson
    Posted Friday, Oct. 24, 2003, at 1:02 PM PT

    Amazon.com’s announcement this week of its new “search inside” feature-allowing full-text searches of over 120,000 books in its new digital archive-will probably turn out to be one of those transformative Web moments when a tool suddenly appears and six months later you can’t imagine life without it. For logical reasons, Amazon seems to have designed “search inside” to help readers find text in books that they haven’t bought yet. But there’s just as much opportunity to apply “search inside” to books you already own.

    Think about it this way: I have my thousand-book library sitting in front of me, not 2 feet from where I’m typing right now. But Jeff Bezos has something that I don’t have: He’s got searchable digital versions of that library or a significant portion of it. (From a very unscientific survey that I performed, it seems like Amazon has about 50 percent of my library included in the “search inside” archive, though that percentage is bound to increase over time.) We tend to think of search requests as generally taking the form of “find me something I’ve never seen before.” But real-life search is often different: You’re looking for something you have seen before, but you’ve somehow mislaid or only half-remembered. You search for your glasses or your car keys. Or, in the case of books, you search for that paragraph about the Russian revolution’s impact on literacy rates that you read somewhere a few years ago. You know it’s in a book somewhere on your shelf, you just can’t remember which one.

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