A is for algorithm, B is for book, C is for choice

By   Hannah Bickerton 2 min read

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If I am lucky enough to be gifted a book by friends or family, the purchasing process seems to broadly resemble the following:

  • I know him well enough to know this is what I think he will like. In fact, I know he doesn’t have this already. He’s told me or someone close to him has confirmed it.
  • I loved this and I really want him to love it too (you self-appointed ‘taste makers’ know who you are).

I wrestle with this dichotomy the older I get. I believe I am a reasonably good curator of my own eclectic tastes. And however happy I am to be exposed to a friend’s hot new recommendation, I kinda know what I like and I like what I know.

But at the same time I recognise publishers, just like music A&R execs, need both of these routes to gifting. And it impacts on their respective commissioning strategies. Either you have enough data to know sufficient numbers of people will like this because it is similar enough to other things they know and have purchased and that targeted consumers will find via successful algorithms, or it is ‘I really like this, and I know I can make you like it too. I have a track record of hits. Trust me’. 

Which brings us to the much-maligned algorithm, the modern-day arbiter of what we used to call solving a problem of choice. Whatever did it do to offend quite so many creative people? Listening on the radio to a Laura Marling narrated documentary about the recording of Joni Mitchell’s album, Blue, the singer-songwriter declared this iconic 1971 intensely personal masterpiece as something that would struggle to find listeners in today’s world of ‘hideous algorithmic beige’. You’d like to think something as iconic and era defining as Blue would find enough listeners and word-of-mouth success, but maybe that is just naïve. 

A little quiz. 

What is the word that is most often used when looking for a book to buy in the Amazon search engine? Let’s face it, you don’t always know exactly what you are looking for and don’t always have time to browse. Even if you did, you might need a little help narrowing down the specifics, right?

Well, it is book. Of course it is. You’ve got to start somewhere. 

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.