Amazon search is getting worse, especially for classic books

Just type in “Gulliver’s Travels,” and the first page will not show any editions you actually ought to buy.  And there are so many sponsored ads for mediocre, copyright-less editions.  If you type in “Gulliver’s Travels Penguin” you eventually will get to this, a plausible buy for the casual educated reader.  And wouldn’t it be nice if someone told you the $156.31 Cambridge University Press edition is by far the best choice? — full of marginal annotations!


'and the first page will not show any editions you actually ought to buy'

Project Gutenberg's search is unchanged, though it too will not show any editions you ought to buy, since Project Gutenberg is free.

Too many people don't know about Project Gutenberg and what a great resource it is. A lot of the books are now available in multiple formats for various e-reader applications. Why spend money when you don't need to.

Those free Gutenberg editions are the ones Dr. Cowen is recommending against.

Well, if it wasn't for what he actually wrote - 'and the first page will not show any editions you actually ought to buy.' Project Gutenberg is not offering anything for sale on Amazon.

But you are more broadly correct - Prof. Cowen and Prof. Tabarrok seem to have a true blind spot when it comes to things like the GPL or Project Gutenberg.

Almost as if the idea that people like to cooperate and share is something they either don't understand, or cannot recognize.

Is this the moment where Tyler learns that he is the odd man out? "No it is the children who are wrong"

$150 vs $1 you do not have to be an economist to calculate that decision.


I am not sure what to make of this post.

It seems like the praise for the $151 copy is meant to be taken facetiously and a clue to the reader that Tyler is in fact not lamenting the Amazon search function too terribly much and is especially not genuine in his complaint about the lack of copyright (horror!) on many of the thrifty editions.

That said, I actually would rather pay a buck or two more for the nicer manufacture and potentially interesting intro of that Penguin edition.

It would seem like satire, but I'm not sure. This is not a new development for Amazon as far as I can tell, it would be a weird plug for a retailer with a long history of using public domain sources to lower costs.

I'm also pretty sure that Cowen does not like annotating literature (though I'm for darn sure not going to go track down a citation), so the "marginal annotations" would be a negative value.

Tyler's just trolling with an affiliate link :)

+1 Amazon's search is getting worse for a very select audience, but better for most of its audience.

No, it is legit. I tried to improve by choosing "best review" as my sort filter. Look what I got, a The 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience

To be generous, perhaps Amazon has global algorithms not suited for famous and widely adopted public domain works.

That global algorithm probably works better for things like "six foot USB C cable"

If you were interested enough in Gulliver's travels to want to drop 156$ on it, then you would already know the Cambridge edition is the best choice.

Ads? You don't use an ad blocker? I use ab-block plus. I often wonder, is the average internet user experience with or without an ad blocker?

In all fairness to Prof. Cowen, this sounds like Amazon search with Amazon sponsored ads - not sure how well an ad blocker would work in that particular situation. (Admittedly, I don't really use Amazon, and since I generally browse without javascript or images on, no need for an ad blocker either.)

I think it's getting worse but in a different way. it seems like when you search for an audiobook they keep pushing you to sign up for an Audible membership. Likewise with the music membership even though they actually downgraded it by taking away the ability to upload your own albums.

If you're a high school student reading this for class and not for personal edification, the mediocre copy is superior.

If you're not a high school student reading this for class, the story might entertain you for a lazy afternoon, but being well-read in the classics doesn't carry the status it once did. Now that everyone is able to read the classics, it's not really a status marker.

Tyler's such a troll.

Indeed, casual educated _____ is a term that sales people use when trying to sell the mega fully loaded version of anything.

They call me Old Cuck-n’-feathers

I know you think that a good, solid Lib like Jeff Bezos would never stoop to this level, but.... companies pay Jeff to be at the top of the search results.

And it's even worse -- if you look to the left where you can Filter By Brand Name, there will often be 20 companies there that you've never heard of (especially on low-end electronics). These are often the Chinese knock-offs, and sometimes 10 of the companies are in fact one and the same in reality.

Last time I bought some small kitchen bins for leftovers from Amazon, "Rubbermaid" was not even listed on the left as an option. You had to click the Expand button to see it... among sixty others. I guess they have yet to cut the Jeff Man a big enough check.

And yet you always link to Amazon's site for books. Have you considered linking to the publisher's page or to Indiebound, for example? Words and deeds... Indeed, one reason I borrow your books from the library rather than buy any is to make my small statement about your Amazon fetish.

What is wrong with the Cliff Notes version?
Buy used and save money and time.

Or better yet watch the movie.

Takes less time to read the Notes than watch the movie.

But you miss out on all the Hollywood magic! Plus just watch it sped up.

"And wouldn’t it be nice if someone told you the $156.31 Cambridge
University Press edition is by far the best choice?"
The best choice for the well-known total order on the set of editions of Gulliver, surely ...

Somewhat related: there seems to be no "advanced search function" on Amazon. If you want for example to search a movie with Howard Hawks as director, which was made between 1945 and 1955, and which is free on Amazon prime, I don't think that this search is possible (or it is? if someone knows, I'll be an avid learner). Same holds for Netflix, by the way. Is that a bug or feature?

It is slightly cumbersome, but use the IMDb app as your front end, sort things Howard directed by time, Click on each one, Amazon appears in "ways to watch." Looks like they are all $3 or $4 to watch at Amazon.

Even better,

Advanced search is still there - they just don't want you to find it:

Netflix doesn't want you thinking of a specific title, searching for it, and getting disappointed. They want you to open their app and rely on their recommendations. Doesn't work well for discriminating viewers.

Its less that the search is getting worse, and more that Amazon is getting inundated with low-quality products sold by third parties. (And camouflaged by fake reviews.)

Or worthless genuine reviews by simpletons. This is because amazon now trolls for reviews. I'm not sure they realize the peril in this. More is not better.

Definitely so. Noticed a gradual deterioration over the years.

Recommendations of books used to be splendid. Now they're nearly random (ok. Almost.....)

Is there a decent place to read reviews and discussions about books? I've only glanced at places such as GoodReads and some subReddits and wasn't impressed, but I didn't really give them a try.

Meanwhile, Bezos promises that Amazon is dropping its minimum purchase requirement for "free shipping" this approaching procurement season, if I read this morning's headlines correctly. (Headline quality among online news publishers is NOT improving.)

Is it true as critics claim that someone besides Amazon and its customers will be paying these "free shipping costs"? (Has the USPS been designated to pick up all these "free shipping costs", that is?)

Which edition is best if you read for enjoyment?

Which is best if you read for academic research?

Which is best if someone else is paying?

Amazon has always been a bit pushy about trying to sell you something other than what you came to buy. It seems possible that it's become even pushier lately, and that that has compromised the search function.

You'd think Amazon's algorithms would take care of that, but if they're tracking sales on those related items and few customers abandon due to the added annoyance, it's probably a win for Amazon.

Even though it may be less useful to you, Amazon's customer.

They are promoting more sponsored products. All junk. That displaces more useful recommendations. The search is a little sub-par, it's true. Their buy-with-one-click thing is annoying.

For anything public domain, I just go to or Project Gutenberg. Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, might be a good podcast guest, incidentally.

Don't tell Congress. They may extend the copy right another 300 years to

"prevent these works from falling into the public domain" O. Hatch utah

Google as well. Very strong biases to results that stray away from true facts.

This is infuriating when trying to buy translated classics, where getting an edition from a good publisher really does matter. Especially if you want the Kindle edition. I frequently have to get the ISBN from the publisher website and search by that as it's the only way to find it.

It's sometimes even harder when you're trying to get a specific translation, especially if it's out of print and only available used.

Indeed, Amazon is declining: they even removed the kindle versions of Dragonar Academy for no apparent reason!

A better question is, getting worse for WHOM.

I will bet ebooks to penguin editions that the current version is profit-maximizing for Amazon, or at least Amzn has done lots of work and believes it to be so.

A week or so ago there was a very good link on this website to a philosophy professor who had a list of ways to understand the history of philosophy, I think this post is related. Related in the sense that, while information is just information, understanding is built on truth, and information can be true or not true, when it is true it is sometimes useful towards understanding ...

So I think Tyler Cowen was serious when he stated that the 160 dollar book was, in this case, the best (for the record, the best versions of most classics cluster around 15 dollars - although the best version of at least on long European novel is the 5 dollar Bantam version - I am not going to say which one it is - and the best version of Richardson's "Charles Grandison" is unavailable, and the second best version costs more than a hundred bucks ....) (Just saying ....)

If you work at a university, and want to read a classic, you just go to the university library, browse a few versions, and choose the most congenial one.

If you are rich and unaffiliated with a university library, and want to read and understand - in context, the way people who know what it means that the Grateful Dead Concert in Saint Louis in 1982 was special in several ways, not the special way that people who have wonderful lives as non-tourists seem to understand, when they are tourists taking a double-decker bus through Manhattan and smiling at the fact that the have "Seen" the Eiffel Tower of that borough, from their bus (Empire State Building) (where, as you may or may not know, Jerry Seinfeld literally cried in the corner library, the one with the windows giving out on Lake Ontario, when he was dumped as an 18 year old freshman by the girl he had met in Scales Hall and about whom he had thought "she is the one" in his romantic soon to be broken heart - not saying that the ensuing comedy is to everybody's taste, but those windows in the second story library in the Empire State building, with their Scales Hall view of Lake Ontario, were what they were .... word) - but in the special way that we understand when we understand the world ----- well, if you want to understand "Gullivers Travels" the best you can - and if you are one of those people, like me, unaffiliated with any university, but who have read lots of classics and who have added to that number about two or three a year (last year, for me, included a novel by Dostoevsky, the collected stories of Maugham, to a degree, and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe) --- then it is important to read the best available version, and to compare that version with a few others. So if it costs a lot on Amazon, and if you are not spending that cash on golf course memberships, safari trips, or "modern art" - go for it, try to understand. "Great writers", like "noble guard dogs", "popular music", and "cool clothes", are not a thing of the past but are something that is always with us, if we take advantage of what has been given us .... (I put that last observation in because for some reason I think of my wonderful dog Jenny, who laughed along with me as I read through Dickens, not that long ago ----- she was a schnauzer poodle Lhasa Apso Shi Tsu mix ---- none of us will ever meet quite that mix of a dog again, as long as we live)

It is like when you go to a restaurant that is not a bad restaurant you think about everything - how good the food is, what the ideal restaurant of that type was in the dreams of the people who run the restaurant, or who started the restaurant before the current crew took over, about whether or not God loves everybody who works there as much as you think God does (and God always loves them more).

My advice, if you have been reading this far, on the commentaries on the Bible -

Matthew Henry - good in spots, but a great sinner.
J. Vernon McGee - very good, a little too comfortable in this world.
Robert Alter - good in spots, not sure he believes in God.

Memorize your favorite passages, pray a lot, and God will take care of you, because people like me are praying for you and have been - in my case for more than a half century - for an awful long time.

(If you have read this far and think this was written by a "bot" .....

Jenny was a schnauzer/poodle/Lhasa Apso/Shih Tsu mix,
as God is my witness

bots don't talk that way yet.)

(also, if you spend a lot on an Amazon book, it is possible that the Amazon folks will buy it back from you a year or so later at almost the same price - I have been cashless, at times, and I understand the importance of this possibility)

Back to what I was talking about ---- That is just three (Biblical commentators) - chosen to demonstrate that you can't trust anybody to explain a book that is really worth reading, even the best of books, which , after all, are only guidelines to real life and real understanding, and should not be mistaken (the map is not the territory ....) . Books are a finite part of our lives, after our youthful enthusiasm and sadness that we will never meet an Ent, and no, our friends will not save a world a la Frodo or, in his way, Smeagol ---- but that does not mean that there is not a lot of advantages to understanding ,

as a friend understands a friend

what someone said

long ago


or today on that unreliable line that Verizon delegates those of us with flip phones to.

TFW you see a dog that clearly reminds you of a Tibetan Terrier (a Tibetan Terrier) but which is a schnauzer/poodle/Lhasa Apso/Shih Tzu mix.

I adopted her from the DC shelter, the poor thing was a year old and had never been outside for more than a few minutes, the first time I took her outside to run (in the park near Shirlington) the poor creature ran in little circles, no wider than a small apartment room - a dog a year old! - having never, obviously, been allowed to run outside, and who had no idea that the world was not circumscribed by boring old furniture the way an old lady's apartment so often is (I assume the previous owner was a little old lady with a small apartment) - and the poor creature knew no more of the world, when it came to running, than the little circle she could run in the old lady's apartment, in the biggest room in that sad apartment, which still had so much furniture along the edges that it took only about 10 seconds to run around the part of the room a little dog could run around in. Sad!

As God is my witness, for all the good things I have done in this world, none are better than all I did, every day for more than a decade, to make that little creature understand that

the world is a big place

and that it is full of love

and that the world is full of wide places, with lots of grass and big green fields, to run and run and run so long that we get tired out

and want to rest, happy to know we have been blessed with good friends

who want the best for us

I pray for the people who dislike me most, and I am happy to do that ---

but I was the best friend to a creature who never had a kind friend in this world

the best memory possible is such a memory

If you click to check the "Prime Free One-Day" button, it'll give you the Penguin option as the first choice. I don't know why that is, but perhaps these are the more popular selections that Amazon can stock/organize in enough volume to ship in one day.

Does anyone know how to do a book search with the Kindle results deleted?

Try Amazon UK!
More depth and much that doesn't make it across the Atlantic.

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