My Bookstore is Stalking Me (And I Like It)

detective2Without realizing it, I reached a tipping point recently. Have you seen those newsletters from booksellers that alert you about books you might be interested in? Last year, I subscribed to a number of those. Imagine my surprise when I opened a Borders newsletter with the subject line “New from an Author You Love.” It was announcing a James Patterson release. (Do I really need a newsletter to know James Patterson has a new book out? He always has a new book out.)

Inside the e-mail, I found this: “Since you’ve bought something by James Patterson in the past, we thought you might enjoy this new release: The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King — a Nonfiction Thriller, available now. Get it at a Borders store near you, or buy it now at and enjoy it in no time!”

Sheesh. You buy one James Patterson thriller (hey, it was on sale), and they think they’ve got your number. I also got similar messages announcing new books by P. C. Cast, Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen, Stieg Larsson, and others. At least those made sense. I also subscribed to newsletters from Amazon and B&N, not wanting to miss out on news books or discounts. Of course, I also checked the recommendations on Amazon and B&N (“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”).

The recommendations poured in. Sometimes off-target, sometimes so on-target that it was creepy. At times, I felt like a heroine from a James Patterson thriller. Just when I thought it was safe, another e-mail would show up in my inbox, or Amazon would tell me about the latest historical romance. upcoming paranormals, or the new Warhammer book, all based on my wishlists and purchases. Besides the feeling of being watched, this has its drawbacks. My brother borrowed my computer while visiting and added a watch to his shopping cart. Only it wasn’t his shopping cart, it was mine, and it took a couple of weeks to persuade Amazon to stop sending me love letters about watches.

One day, it happened. Call it the “tipping point.” I became a convert. I opened a Borders newsletters to see the latest coupon. And the recommendations were something that actually interested me! Holy cow, how did that happen? I was in the middle of my “Children’s and YA adventure glom,” and they recommended books like the Tunnels series and the Pseudonymous Bosch series, and a book about a school-aged supervillain. They all sounded … fun. OK, it’s not something everyone would get excited about, but it beats another e-mail about James Patterson. Now that I have finally read Pride and Prejudice and started buying P&P sequels, the recommendations should bring an interesting mix. (What next? The Adventures of the Hooded Darcy?)

My first thought was “Why didn’t Borders start doing this sooner? Customers might have paid more attention to them.” My next was “I’d better pay more attention to their newsletters.” Maybe that was the point all along.

Then something even more shocking happened. I got excellent recommendations from the Barnes & Noble NOOKbooks newsletter. This shouldn’t be so shocking, should it? Here’s the story. While I love my Nook and my B&N, the recommendations on their web page stink. There is a “Suggestions for You” area on my personalized “My B&N” page, but it lists only ten books, never seems to get updated, and is currently recommending a book by a politician I don’t like. Yuck! Compare that to Amazon, which can’t help recommending things to me, and lets me refine those recommendations. (Just because I bought a part for Dad’s electric razor doesn’t mean I want to learn about every new Remington device.)

Whoever is doing the B&N newsletters must be from a different department than the Web page people. If only they were on the same page. I opened up a recent B&N newsletter, and under “NOOKbooks You Might Like,” it recommend Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll, as well as The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O`Rourke, Nothing But Deception by Allegra Gray, and a Kasey Michaels book. Another one recommended Elizabeth Chadwick books to me. It’s great to learn that her books can be found in the U.S. again, and in eBook form at that!

The suggestions have all started making sense. Maybe I should be frightened of how much information the bookstores have about me. Just as some people refuse to use customer loyalty cards at their grocery store, because they don’t want the invasion of privacy, maybe I should stop using my Borders and B&N cards. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Besides, I’m more than my purchases. Sure, stores can tell a lot about me from what I buy, but they can’t tell everything. And I dare them to decipher me based on my purchases. Just the other day, I bought a Pride and Prejudice sequel called Darcy and Anne at the same time as I bought a Warhammer novel called Blood Gorgons. Analyze that, demographics people!

Instead of worrying that companies are going to figure me out, I’m having fun screwing up their software. Whenever I make a purchase that completely goes against the grain, a little line of software code cries softly in its sleep. Besides, I’m glad they are at least trying to use this information to try to target my interests (good luck with that), instead of assuming every customer wants the same books.

So what about you? Are the recommendations from booksellers ever useful to you, or do they keep suggestions authors you dislike? Are you worried about the invasion of privacy, happy they are listening to your likes and dislikes, or all of the above?

- Anne Marble

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8 Responses to My Bookstore is Stalking Me (And I Like It)

  1. Leigh says:

    I get recommendations all the time on the web page. I used to get e-mails, but I must have turned that off.

    For the most part their recommendations are for books that I have already read or for authors that I don’t like.

    For now I use books recommended here either by review or the message board or from friends on Goodreads and another message board.

    Word of mouth is winning over Amazon’s demographic profile for right now.

  2. Carrie says:

    I generally enjoy browsing the emails I get from the bookstores, and I love the coupons. ;-) I’ve definitely found a few books I’d never heard of by glancing through the “just for you” picks. Not often, but often enough to make it worth my while.

    I do mess with amazon’s software, though, since I share a kindle with my husband and it’s under his account. Thankfully he has a sense of humor and doesn’t mind notifications that his “favorite” romance author has a new book out. It’s especially funny since I tend to buy the racier books on kindle so I don’t have the books laying around the house where a child might pick them up.

  3. AARPat says:

    Hate to tell you, but it’s not all bookstores. I signed up for an online account at my public library system. Now I get fiction alerts from them. Most are for the newest bestsellers the library has ordered.

    Oh, yes, I ordered an Edible Arrangement for my mother at Christmas and am now getting their “since you bought…” emails. I also shop online for myself at various stores and get their “recommendations.” It seems all the junk snail mail has now converted itself into junk email!

    I haven’t quite decided how I feel about it. At least none of it is wasting any trees I hope! Who knows how many pieces of paper at these companies’ headquarters are being circulated. My hope is it’s all done via email and no trees are dying for anyone to send me a recommendation.

  4. MaryK says:

    Amazon’s recommendations are the only ones I really use. I basically use Amazon as an online storage database. I have several lengthy wishlists of books and media that I’m interested in some of which I have no intention of buying from Amazon; it’s just really convenient to use the wishlists.

    I like browsing the recommendations because it does sometimes come up with things I haven’t heard of or have forgotten about. If it starts giving me weird recs based on some none media item I bought, I just use the “fix this” button and tell it not to use that item. And I buy or wishlist from enough divergent genres to keep it from being able to pinpoint my tastes too closely.

  5. RachelT says:

    It’s not only bookstores – I also get emails from ebay which are ‘tailored especially for me’. What’s the problem with that you may ask? Well they contain all the things I have already bought – why would I want another? Now if they could send me an email full of the things I might like to buy tomorrow or next week, then I might take notice.

  6. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who looks at the recommendations, even if I sometimes roll my eyes at them.

    Pat> I wish my library would do that. They don’t even send out e-mail notifications when your books are almost due back. :(

    I do think that some companies go nuts with their e-mails. (Just because I ordered flowers a few times doesn’t mean I want to be nagged every week about sending flowers. ;))

  7. Leigh says:

    Anne M Marble. .

    Don’t get me started on company e-mails. I have some that send out one EVERYDAY. . . then there are others that are weekly. I know I should take the time to opt out, but usually I just hit delete.

    I would say that my e-mail consists of 70% advertisements, 10% of notification of e-bills, banking etc, and then 20% personal

  8. I drop a leave a response whenever I especially enjoy a post on a website or I have something to valuable to contribute to the discussion. It’s triggered by the passion displayed in the article I looked at. And after this post My Bookstore is Stalking Me (And I Like It) All About Romance’s News & Commentary Blog. I was actually moved enough to write a thought ;-) I actually do have 2 questions for you if you tend not to mind. Could it be simply me or does it give the impression like some of the comments come across as if they are left by brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are writing at other social sites, I’d like to keep up with you. Could you make a list every one of your social pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

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