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Maybe it's better not to look

June 25, 2008 |  1:36 pm

Dontlookflickr

It is not uncommon to hear an author talk about Amazon rankings. Amazon is one of the few places to get a sense of how a book is doing in real time — the elaborate, drawn-out process of getting sales numbers from bookstores and back to authors is (to say the least) Byzantine.

Despite its specialization — Amazon counts only its own sales, after all — the immediacy of these rankings can be addictive. I've heard authors talk about tracking their status against other books or trying to gauge exactly how many places a single sale might raise their rank. It can get a bit obsessive.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it's such a common temptation that someone has built a Web application, Booklert, that obsessively checks Amazon rankings for you. The forward-thinking folks at if:book describe the tool this way:

I get a picture of Booklert as a time-saving tool for hypercompetitive and stat-obsessed writers, or possibly as a kind of masochistic entertainment for publishers morbidly addicted to seeing their industry flounder.

The truly obsessed author can even get Booklert updates via twitter. But sometimes, maybe, it's better to look away. if:book continues:

perhaps I'm being uncharitable... Booklert — or something similar — could be used to create personalized bestseller lists, adding a layer of market data to the work of trusted reviewers and curators.

I like the idea of personalized bestseller lists. But integrating them in a way that's useful would depend on who signs up for Booklert and how good the social networking tools are. Does someone who tracks books on personal finance, for example, really care about the interests of a cookbook lover?

Hmm... if they did, that could be interesting. The risks here are very low — Booklert is free.

Carolyn Kellogg

Photo by Iwona Kellie via Flickr

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