20 February 2012

On Lovingly Hand-Selected Recommendations

That they pretend to know me irritates. I write here of Alibris, the self-described "premier online marketplace for independent sellers of new and used books". For four years now they've pestered, prodded, poked and pushed, peppering my inbox with books they know I'll want. "We've lovingly hand-selected the following recommendations just for you", I'm told (emphasis theirs).

Here's one of their most recent picks:

Here's another that was chosen with me in mind:

Alibris add insult, describing this classic as a book I thought I'd never find:

And finally, there's this "book", which is actually a DVD:
Now, to be fair, the folks at Alibris have very little to go on. Our only contact took place back in 2008 when I purchased The Authentic Confessions of Harriet Marwood, an English Governess through their site. Faux-Victorian erotica penned by Montreal poet John Glassco, it says a great deal about Alibris that not a single Canadian title has figured in their four years of lovingly hand-selected recommendations. No poetry or porn, either.

Photo by Mary Elam

All this brings me to the Word Bookstore in Montreal, which launched its own website just last week. I've been a patron for nearly thirty years, first darkening the doorway as a fresh-faced university student.

These are just four of the many books owner Adrian King-Edwards has put in my hands over the years:

Memoirs of Montparnasse
John Glassco
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970

Inscribed and annotated by the author. Ex-libris Frank and Marian Scott.

Œuvres Illustrées de Balzac, volume 3
Honoré de Balzac
Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1867

Ex-libris John Glassco

The Beautiful and Damned
F. Scott Fitzgerald
London: Grey Walls, 1950

The Watching Cat
Pamela Fry
London: Davies, 1960

Inscribed by the author.

Every one purchased. The only times I've ever passed on a recommendation – a rare event – was when I already owned a copy of the book in question.

The good souls at the Word know me; they don't insult, they don't waste my time... and they're very generous with bookmarks.


  1. Sort of glad I never used Alibris-I did think about it over the years. Of course, all of those books would be my first choices.

  2. I think those automated "if you like this, you'll love this" robots are utterly worthless. It's all based on simplistic word seaches using subject heading, authors and title words from previous purchases. They were an iditoic invention started by the evil amazon empire (I think) and everyone else in the online bookselling world decided to follow suit. You should see the "recommendations" I get when I log on to Better World Books. Laughable.

  3. Alibris always cunningly recommends to me the same 4 books I already bought from them years ago.

  4. Patti, it would be easy enough for me to exit their mailing lists. Really, I'm just curious to see how long it will take before they recommend something I want. That or I'm a sucker for punishment.

    John, I have a feeling that I'm receiving default suggestions of some sort. If you like The Authentic Confessions of Harriet Marwood, an English Governess you'll like Lady and the Tramp. Hmm.

    JRSM, that is cunning. Substituting one - but only one - of the titles with something you didn't buy would be even more so.

  5. Hi there, I work at Alibris and I came across your post. Just wanted to say, point well-taken! Since there is only one purchase in your customer history, it does look like you're receiving default selections, and not particularly enticing ones at that.

    In any case, we're all for everyone shopping at their local independent bookstore! But anytime you want to shop a store in, say, London or Berlin, give Alibris a try.

    If you have any other comments or questions, feel free to email me at info@alibris.com. Put “Attn: Amy” in the subject line so your message will come to me. Happy reading!

  6. years of searching for canadian poetry and french art house films, and no real effect on the recomendations, but ONE seach for "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!" and I can never let visitors use my internet again.

  7. You don't discuss the most troubling problem with small independent bookstores, though. Going in, realizing you have lots of books at home you haven't read, and then realizing you're the only customer in the store, and then having to wait until someone else comes in before you can slip out. A riddle for the ages. That's why I watch TV.