I’ve recently switched from amazon.co.uk to amazon.com. So many stories about people outside the UK having their kindles wiped made me increasingly nervous, so I decided to do the sensible thing. And it’s allowed me to make an interesting comparison.
Both sites are now using the same book collection I have on my kindle to make recommendations. And while on the UK site, around 50% of the authors on the recommended list are female, on amazon.com it’s less than 1 in 10.
This matters to me. I love female crime writers – Elly Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, Kate Atkinson, Lindsey Davis, Ann Holt. And I love female fantasy writers – Maria Snyder, Naomi Novik, Robin Hobb, MZB. I also read quite a lot of literary fiction. But the new list is full of predictability – Patterson, Connelly, Robinson, Banks, Pratchett, Baldacci. I don’t have any thrillers or violent American crime novels on my kindle. Though there are a few books on the list I might pick if I had unlimited funds, these are not the kind of stories I would jump at.
I can, of course, spend time endlessly ticking ‘not interested’, but shouldn’t the algorithm be doing that? Can it really not tell that if someone has 70% of their fantasy novels written by women, then other female writers might be a safer bet? I suppose the truth is probably simpler. This isn’t so much a list of what other people who read the same books have bought, as a list of what’s popular in the genres I read. And so it becomes a self-reinforcing list of male writers. Even though I don’t read thrillers, I read crime, and so Patterson turns up on page one of my recommendations. The list is skewed so the popular writers (or their ghosts) remain popular, and the place that’s supposed to help me find a link to something I want to read, in fact just pisses me off and makes me want to buy elsewhere. If my nearest decent bookshop wasn’t over an hour away, I’d be buying a lot of paper books.
Anyway, you want a book recommendation? Try Carry Yourself Back to Me, by Deborah Reed.