In case you missed it, J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of books, wrote a mystery novel under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. She was inadvertently outed by someone in her lawyer’s office.
Much has been written about the fact that the book, although very well written and reviewed, hadn’t sold much at all prior to the revelation. Then it took off. The stories about this “irony” struggled to find a point other than that not all good novels are discovered.
Really. How profound.
What this publishing parable actually points up is that the existing, antiquated system of finding new creative content sucks and hasn’t gotten much better, despite Amazon’s best attempts. I find their recommendations tedious and predictable, but not necessarily predictive. It’s not really their fault and I love Amazon.
The problem is that the system, if you can call it that, for finding new content of any sort, be it books, music or scripted entertainment, has never been good and hasn’t been greatly improved in the information age. It’s a critical failing.
If we really want more and better content, we need a more and better way to find it. Pandora is a step in the right direction. Their music genome legitimately plays music you’ll like but didn’t know, based on the songs you tell it you do like. It’s a great way to discover new artists, a role that radio gave up years ago in an era of tight, repetitive playlists.
I’m also encouraged by the recommendations of booklamp.org, which has a DNA-Pandora style approach to books. It’s still limited (and it’s a non-profit) but the results I’ve gotten from it are promising.
While many people lament the decline and fall of bookstores, I think, like much of the existing media, that they dug their own graves. Bookstores are no longer staffed by knowledgeable people who can consult with a customer about what they may like. And they have not availed themselves of in-store technology to help you find new authors.
The challenge of helping consumers find new content is an important factor in reinventing the media.