I like to keep things local but we can’t talk of creativity without sometimes looking beyond our borders for examples and inspiration. I also like to keep things honest. The truth is that one of my all-time favourite websites is Amazon.com. I insist on dotcom because the other franchises such as dot co.uk do not have the same effect on me. And I only browse books, not much else. The company has expanded to sell cosmetics, electronics, clothes and even invested in clouds.
The website is the brainchild of Jeff Bezos, one of a handful of tech entrepreneurs who survived the tech bubble bust in the USA in the late 1990s. He saw something that others had not seen, that trade would soon move from brick-and-mortar establishments to virtual shops. Books could easily move into virtual shops because they do not need to be tried for size like clothes. And if you know that you want to buy book X by author Y, then it wouldn’t matter where you bought it.
When he founded the company, he asked friends and family to help him fund the start-up. His parents invested in the business and famously said that they were betting on Jeff and not on the Internet. They would subsequently reap massively from that investment as the business grew.
Back to why I love the website. For one, I love to read and the online shopping experience at Amazon is better than most local shops. Many bookshops in Kenya, with a few exceptions, sell books that are sealed. You need to get a salesperson to open it up so that you peek inside. It doesn’t simplify the book browsing experience. One salesman told me that the sealing keeps the books from getting dusty. Yeah right!
Amazon is different. The books on the website are searchable by name of book or name or author. You can read the author’s biography and get a list of all his or her books. Book reviews are also available for each book but there are rumours on the web that many book reviews are fake and are crafted in-house.
Best of all is the excerpt. Nothing has changed my reading life more than book excerpts. The fact that you can read the book cover, front, table of contents and read an excerpt which can be a few pages long or an entire chapter. No other tool will give you an idea of how a book is that reading a part of it. You get lots of information from it: the book rhythm, author style, subject matter and a sample of its interestingness or lack thereof. Have you ever bought a book from some recommendation and been disappointed once you have spent money on it? The online experience will reduce such nasty experiences.
The website also provides a list of books on the same subject by different authors and many of the books sold are available new, used or electronic version.
Even if you buy books locally or travel to buy, learn about the book you want to buy, read an excerpt and make a more informed choice about what goes into your head.
And the name, Amazon, just apt because there’s a dense forest of books available or maybe because we need forests to have books.