Does Amazon sell books like cans of soup?

I read a fascinating article in the Nov/Dec issue of Boston Review recently. The article is titled “Books After Amazon: Publishing’s Race to the Bottom” by Onnesha Roychoudhuri.  It was a well-written and astute view of the world’s largest book retailer.  I strongly encourage you to read the article in its entirety by clicking here, but just to whet your appetite for what’s in store for you if you do, here’s a small excerpt:

Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and of Small Press Distribution, suggests that the difference between Amazon and brick-and-mortar bookstores is most evident in how they market books: “I think even people at Amazon would say that it’s essentially a widget seller that happens to have begun by focusing on books. Many people, like me, will say you can’t sell a book the same way you sell a can of soup.”

At the heart of the soup-can analogy are the algorithms that Amazon uses to “recommend” books to customers. Most customers aren’t aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data. This is frustrating for publishers who want their books to be judged on their merits. “I think their twisted algorithms that point you toward bestsellers instead of books that you might actually like [are] a shame,” Gavin Grant, cofounder of Small Beer Press, laments.