Amazon Opens 'Backstory' Author Interview Site


Go ahead and call Amazon an e-retailer, but the reality is that these guys have been as much content providers as anything else for years. Or to be more precise, Amazon has understood better than anyone how a rich content experience drives sales. I go to them regularly to find information about authors and books. As a literary resource online, they are second only to Wikipedia for me. It is hard to think of another retailer that has so fully obliterated the longstanding silos between media and marketing. Kinda makes you wonder where exactly Publisher's Weekly dropped the ball on that one, eh? Well, sure, they syndicate their reviews into Amazon. But why is it that again and again, in film media, books, music, etc. it takes a retailer or a pure play Web brand to take the lead on discovering what sorts of content the online readers really want and need?

But I digress.

Amazon continues to deepen its hold on bookaholics with their new Author Interview Series. Author videos have been at the site for a while already, but the project seems to be more focused and ambitious now that it has a dedicated site called the Backstory.

The site launches with five authors featured from different genres: Tom Douglas (cooking); Joshua Foer (novels and non-fiction); Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (young adult) and Gossip girl screenwriter John Stephens.

In addition to the author interviews, readers will be alerted to upcoming interviews, for which they can submit questions. The authors are further fleshed out with their musical playlists, recipes, guest reviews of others' books, etc.

You have to hand it to Amazon. They never keep their eye off the ball. It is still all about the sale. And that reflex is getting irritating as the company sites add richer content we traditionally identify with independent media. As is painfully true in their music and video sections, the company seems to think that the basic retail site structure is appropriate for just about anything. The Backstory literally shunts the author videos to the right side rail, leaving the center column looking pretty much like any Amazon sales page. In fact areas of the page are a tad deceptive. A left column promises an archive of podcasts featuring featured writers. But each listing actually just kicks you over a sale page for a feature book by the writer on which you have scrolls around to find under "Related Media." Even the "Featured Recipe" links do the same little bait and switch. It would be nice if they could give the hard sell a break just a bit and create an earnest, editorially-driven experience. There are a lot of us who have embraced the idea that Amazon is a media company, but somehow Amazon itself hasn't.     

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