Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turblence, Thoughts on review material.




I started reading Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence. The first part focuses so far on his early life. His love of music and mathematics. A lot of it is about his rise to prominence in the economic profession. He talks about his relationship with Ayn Rand and his objectivist ideals. It is rather interesting reading about someone with very different ideals than my own. He seems to be an odd mix of personal conservativeness and economic free market radicalism.

The writing is crisp. There is very little excess wordiness in the text. This is despite the huge size of the book. If you want a lesson in how to cut out unnecessary material, this book does a good job.

I also was reading the New York Time Book Review, the November 18, 2007 edition. I found an interesting title which I wanted to reserve, Amy Hua, Day of Empire How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance And Why They Fall. I can almost sigh sometimes; the library system where I work has not gotten it yet. Quite often bookstores get books before libraries. At least, this is what I think.

There seems to be a distribution pattern where the first copies are sent out to the bookstore, then they are sent to libraries. Many publishers will deny this. But, it makes sense to first make money selling the book to individuals, then try to sell it to institutions like universities and libraries later.

Getting back to the concept of review material. The most unbiased source for reviews of everyday items is supposed to be http://www.consumerreports.org/ They do not take advertising and have a strict policy of neutrality in their reviews. They produce a magazine to review products, as well as specialized books like The Best Baby Products and The Used Car Buying Guide. They also have an annual buying guide which compiles their reviews for the year.

Just as a thought exercise, if you compared the reviews on items in consumer reports and the reviews on books lets say in the New York Review of Books, you could say some interesting things.

The first thing you might notice is that The New York Review of Books has numerous advertisements for selling books and is academic in nature. The reviews are selectively biased towards literature and non- practical nonfiction. When I say non-practical, I mean things like history, philosophy, and other academic subjects. If you think about it even more, the reviewers are supposed to show their biases so they can prove that they are intellectuals and academics.

The problem I have with intellectual and academic reviewers is that they don't review the every day books which a library or bookstore needs to buy. It is very hard to find decent reviews on career books, books on plumbing, computer books. You have to go to trade magazines or web sites to find what you are looking for. Barron's or Forbes for example might have reviews on business books. Or you have to go to the recognized series like the Dummies series, or The Complete Idiot series, or the Teach Yourself Visually series. Sometimes, I think there are better ways to learn things than being a "Dummie" or an "Idiot".

The other thing which you have to do is buy the practical books from a practical manufacturer, Black and Decker publishes books on plumbing or home repair, Sunset Magazine publishes books on home design. Sometimes, it would be nice again if we could find more unique reviews of this kind of material.

Often the only way to find out about the everyday material is to go to other libraries and bookstores and see what they have on the shelf, there simply is no review material. This is why you often see librarians wandering around libraries where they don't work. The other option is to request sample items from publishers so you can figure out which practical books you might want to buy. Also publishers show up at library conventions or bookselling conventions. When I went to BookExpo America, I took the time to visit Sphinx Legal Publishing and Nolo Press to see what practical self-help books they had for law.

I think it would help reviewers sometimes if they stopped worrying so much about their intellectual credentials and reviewed more practical books.

5 comments:

Cromely said...

In addition to blogs like yours and libdrone.org I rely on Amazon's readers for reviews.

I'm constantly amazed at the detailed reviews and arguments about the most obscure products I find there.

I like the idea of Consumer Reports, but I tend not to trust them. Whenever I read a review about a product type I I don't know much about, I find it "useful." The problem is that when I read about a type of product or service that I'm familiar with, I often find their methodology or results to be off base.

Book Calendar said...

Amazon surprisingly is not bad for reader reviews. They don't eliminate the bad reviews like a lot of places.

Consumer Reports is useful enough to get an idea of what is worth something. I tend to balance between price and reliability. Sometimes, I just break the reviews into three sections, good, medium, and bad.

There is also Consumers Research, another review magazine. But, most people never bother reading it.

Pam Hoffman said...

You Wrote:

"There seems to be a distribution pattern where the first copies are sent out to the bookstore, then they are sent to libraries. Many publishers will deny this. But, it makes sense to first make money selling the book to individuals, then try to sell it to institutions like universities and libraries later."

That may be true. I tend to recommend a lot of books and when I do, I also mention to people that they might consider using my strategy.

If I learn of a good book, I sometimes get it from the library and see if it should be in my own personal library. If I like it, I buy it.

I tell other people this as well since they can get the info first, then decide where to spend their hard earned dollars.

In this day and age, a publisher might do well (and sell even MORE books) to use the library system in the USA as their frontrunner marketing platform.

Just a thought.

It kind of goes like this... I'd make a big deal out of a book, send an advanced copy to all the libraries (it then becomes a marketing expense) and mention that they can only get the advanced copies from their local branch for x amount of time before the book is released.

This has built in, natural 'scarcity' since the first person to borrow the book from the library ties it up.

Oh, you could reserve the copy from the library. Then you gotta wait.

How much better for the publishers it might be if they created a fervor due to scarcity then, oh, 'here it comes' to the bookstores.

People who have been waiting anxiously would be in a buying mood I think.

It takes three things for someone to make a purchasing decision: interest, willingness and ability. There would be time to save the money for the book while the libraries get the visitors looking for the book.

It's win, win, win for everyone since you really COULD read the thing first and decide to buy it after if you wanted.

And as for this...

"It is very hard to find decent reviews on career books, books on plumbing, computer books. You have to go to trade magazines or web sites to find what you are looking for."

I think you will be finding them more and more easily. Blogs are a good source of information!

Alex Shalman writes an interesting post on johhchow.com called "The Power of Blogging, Coffee Cake, and a Dream" and asks everyone to post the best place local to them to get coffee cake.

And they did! I even found the place nearest me by reading the comments. It's a conversation with the world and SOMEONE out there has read (or wrote) what you are thinking about.

I say, next time you are wondering, do a search and see what you can find! Do let us know what you learn. :)

Love your site,

Pam Hoffman
http://seminarlist.blogspot.com

Dr. T said...

Such book reviews aren't for the "average reader" any more than the NYT Best Seller List lists the actual top ten books sold. As much as I liked Don DeLillo's book Underworld, there's no way it ever made the top ten, let alone number one, out in the real world of book selling. It was number one among prestige books, and that is all.

heather (errantdreams) said...

I absolutely love the web for 'practical' reviews of the books I might want to read.

I often ignore Amazon's reviews, however (kind of hypocritical, I know, since I post shortened versions of my own there), because so many of them are just way off base. I'm not talking about subjective details, either, but things like people giving a book one star because it has sex in it---but the subtitle of the book explicitly marks it as erotica (Marking a book down because it's what it advertises itself as?!). Also, it's been noted that some of their most prolific reviewers tend to largely post dust jacket summaries straight from the books.