Sunday, May 29, 2016

Amazon’s Most Well-Read City Survey Is Broken

Amazon recently issued a press release that said it was revealing “the most well-read cities in America.”  The only problem is the list was not accurate.

First, it doesn’t reveal the key determination of who makes the list.  It did not clearly state the list is based on sales of its products only.  Think about it, if you bought a book from an independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Target, or from KOBO, it didn’t register in this study.

Second, it only registered sales of newspapers, magazines, and books, and not free downloads of books or of books borrowed at libraries. It didn't measure reading consumption, only Amazon sales.

Something is obviously wrong when the survey’s results list the supposed Top 20 most well-read cities and absent are No. 1 market, New York City, No. 2 market, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and not a single city in the third-most populated state, Florida.

Amazon listed the top cities and surprise, surprise, it’s headquarter-home of Seattle topped the list. That’s probably just a coincidence, right?

Their big 10 includes:

1.      Seattle. Washington
2.      Portland, Oregon 
3.      Washington, D.C.
4.      San Francisco, California
5.      Austin, Texas
6.      Las Vegas, Nevada
7.      Tucson, Arizona
8.      Denver, Colorado
9.      Albuquerque, New Mexico
10.  San Diego, California

Not to beat this horse to death, but the release issued no details or data as to how the list was compiled.  Was it based on total units sold (does a newspaper equal a book?)?  Was it based on total dollar sales of materials (or was it based on total number of unique individuals purchasing materials?)  What if things were purchased but sent elsewhere as gifts – does that count towards the city that received the book or purchased it?

I know, I know, so many questions for a silly fluff piece, but the bigger question is why do we even pay attention to a survey that’s obviously flawed or biased?  My concern is that the weight of the Amazon name sways others to buying into the list without giving it any further thought.

Let’s face it, Amazon doesn’t care which cities are named or what criteria was used, it just wants to get its name out there in a positive way, so it can position itself as the book central, as the authority of all content.

But it’s not so. Plenty of books, magazines and newspapers are bought or shared through non-Amazon  sources.  We need to keep the marketplace diverse and to have content sold via many sources and from many physical and virtual locations.  

Amazon, though a significant player in the book market is not The Book Market, and thus, its press releases and surveys need to be clearer when making bold statements about all readers and content consumers.

Interestingly, Amazon seems to contradict its own list.  Just three years ago they issued the list and it looked a lot different.  Seattle was No. 13.  How did they leapfrog so many spaces so quickly?  In fact, not one of the top 10 from 2013 made the top 10 in 2016.  How’s that?

The more respected list that’s been issued for a while is the non-commercial one put out by Central Connecticut State University.  It ranks cities by how literate they are. It doesn’t judge test scores nor tally sales of content. Instead, it looks at cities (77) with 250,000+ people, and examines their access to six areas: library systems, bookstores, digital readership, educational attainment, and newspapers and other publications, including books.

Only four cities in the top 10 most-literate study can be found an Amazon’s top 10.  For the record, the most recent study showed Minneapolis, DC, Seattle, St. Paul, and Atlanta as being the best five cities for literacy.

Whatever these surveys show it’s clear there’s no singular way to approach this.  We also know that regardless of these surveys, we need to increase book sales, improve literacy, and make the written word a vailuable thing to all.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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