Saturday, December 19, 2015

Gospel of Wealth and such

One of the things I love about this country is its amazing network of public libraries. I went from 0 books in 2014 to about 21 in 2015 without spending a single cent. All thanks to the magnificent Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) and its tie-up with Amazon to e-borrow books and to deliver it straight to my Kindle, for free. Even the $40 audio books can be borrowed through Amazon, for free, if you have a public library card.

The really nice thing about using a library is that sometimes one needs to wait until the book becomes available. Waiting actually makes you want to read a book, because in a sense you have "worked" towards it by not giving into instant gratification. CLP and Amazon seamless work together, put me on auto-hold, so that when the book becomes available it is auto-delivered to my Kindle and 21 days later it is auto-checked out. No more late fees to the library or walking/sliding through icy sidewalks just to pick up a book or worse to return an unread book.

Since Amazon owns Goodreads, I get all my recommendations through Goodreads where I follow people who seem to like the books I do but are more regular and avid readers. So what is in there for Amazon to facilitate such a fantastic process?

Since Amazon knows at what time I start a book and what time I take to read a book, it can model my purchase behavior. Thus, in a Machine Learning induced sales frenzy, Amazon follows me around the Internet desperately trying to sell me the third part of a thriller series that it knows I generally finish in a day. Amazon also knows that the third part is on hold, I am fifth in the queue and I am the kind of a customer who quivers tremulously when presented with a deal. Amazon is very likely to have figured that I have self-control of a two year old and it would just be a statistical anomaly if I don't buy the third part when I am targeted the right way.

It is a win-win here. Not only are people more likely to use the library, they are more likely to enjoy the material, search for good books and might even buy the ones that they like. Something that Amazon tried with Kindle Unlimited - but why would you use Kindle Unlimited when you have the mighty American libraries at your disposal?

Getting the books delivered to my sturdy refurbished Kindle (surpassed in robustness only by Nokia 1100) is fantastic. I remember my childhood in Madurai, hanging around in private libraries for hours, so that my parents don’t have to pay the 15% borrowing charge on books that will last for less than a day. I recall waiting agonizing months for the latest Harry Potter to make it to the library because it was so expensive that it was too much to ask for. To me, a free, well-stocked public library in itself is a thing of wonder and a one that just makes reading so much more convenient that it weans me off 30 Rock re-runs on Netflix, is truly awesome.

Interestingly, so many of Andrew Carnegie’s legacies are powered by cutting-edge technology and this has truly changed the way people benefit from his great altruism.