Sunday, December 16, 2012

Using As A Research Tool

As you well know, is a huge retailer of a huge variety of products. When it opened its virtual doors in 1995 the company sold books and only books. Today you can buy just about everything from Amazon, including the proverbial “kitchen sink.”

So where does this retailing behemoth fit into Finding Stuff? Several ways, actually.

One Way is to Use Amazon's Vast List of Titles

The site catalogs over 24.5 million paperbacks and 9.5 million hard backs. Perusing these lists is a great method for finding finding stuff about a particular book or topic. A search for “mining swindles” brings up 48 titles that Amazon’s engine deems relevant (including Mark Twain’s wonderful Roughing It). Let’s take as an example Anthony Comstock’s Frauds Exposed Or How The People Are Deceived And Robbed, And Youth Corrupted, published in 1880.

Amazon lists a 2006 facsimile reprint edition of this book, released by Kessenger Publishing (who claim a copyright for a title already in the public domain, which I take issue with, but that’s a whole different blog). Amazon sells this version for $14.99 in paperback. But . . . the same title is available for free on the Internet Archive

However, unless you knew the title, you wouldn’t easily find Comstock on the Archive; certainly not under “mining swindles,” which turns up zero results. And an identical search on WorldCat identifies several items (like Dr. Swindle’s Application of the Limited Frequency-Unannounced Access Strategy Measurement Technology In Gas Centrifuge Enrichment Plant), but not Comstock. 

By using as a pathfinder, you can track down all sorts of useful sources.

"Look Inside" is Another Way Amazon Can be Helpful

Think of the feature as a preview of a particular title’s content.

Our example will be a volume that showed up during the “mining swindles” search on Amazon: Old West Swindlers by Laurence Yadon and Robert Smith, a paperback published in 2011. The publisher took advantage of Amazon’s Look Inside to upload some of the book’s content. Only a few pages of text are available. But what’s of most interest to me is the Table of Contents, the Index, the Bibliography, and the Notes.

I don’t know about you, but when picking up a book the first thing I do is check out the back matter to see if there are any sources the authors turned up that might be useful to my cause. In this case three subjects-of-particular-interest are listed in the Index, and the TOC shows that one chapter is devoted to their fraud. Alas, the notes for that chapter are not included in the preview.

Want to read Old West Swindlers? There are a couple of options. Buy a copy (either printed or the slightly cheaper Kindle version) or order it through Inter-Library Loan (ILL). 

Sometimes you’ll run across Amazon Looks Inside that include the entire text. If you find one of these, you’ll need to read it off the screen (no printing allowed).

Finally, Amazon is a Useful Research Tool for Book Proposals

Need to know what’s out there in the way of competition, and also what’s available that might be complementary? Amazon is one of the best sources for this sort of information. Do try to avoid looking at the rankings; they can be depressing. If all the complementary books are down in the 8 millionth range you may want to consider a different topic.

On the next post we’ll start in on exploring Google Earth for finding stuff (or more to the point, for visualizing what a place and its surroundings look like).

No comments:

Post a Comment