An email recommendation from Amazon:

Dear Customer,
We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Revised Edition : Birth to Age 5 by Richard Trubo also purchased books by Nancy Wiseman. For this reason, you might like to know that Nancy Wiseman’s Could It Be Autism? : A Parent’s Guide to the First Signs and Next Steps will be released on January 10, 2006. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of 32% by following the link below.

Isn’t it a touch odd that my purchase of a very generalized book on child development and medical care (several months ago) would generate a recommendation sent to my email account for a book asking, could your child have this specific and frightening medical condition? Buy now, at a savings of 32%, to make sure!

It makes me wonder how certain kinds of recommendations are generated, especially those that show up in your inbox. I can handle the “pull” technology of Amazon’s website recommendations just fine. I like seeing what others buy and consider when I’m looking at a particular item on the website. I tend to ignore the recommendations tab when I visit. But by using the “push” email advertisement, I would think Amazon would want to hit the mark more often than not, simply because of its invasive nature. They’re stopping by my door now, and if they do, I want to see something useful rather than just a shot in the dark possibility that has no small measure of fear in the title (Could something be wrong with YOUR child?).

It makes me wonder how much of the recommendation is Amazon’s, and how much of it is the publishers. Does Amazon ever get paid for this kind of “recommendation”? As in, Publisher A saying “here’s some $$$, Amazon, please send this book out, with a generous discount from us, to all people who order books from other authors in our portfolio with similar themes.” Whereas I used to feel like I received the kind of recommendations I would expect in the corner bookstore, I now feel like the target in “targeted marketing.” There’s a subtle but important difference there.

Maybe I’m just grumpy about all the spam that I’ve been getting, in my email accounts (especially school accounts, and usually through university- and department-run listservs) and in my blogs. I don’t need sites that I use often to start sending me titles that sound too much like the friendly spambots in my comment queue that act nice enough as they try to pass a number of explicit links through the system – “Hey buddy! Great site and topic! Maybe you’d like to enhance your pleasure???”

Indeed I would. Give me better recommendations.


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