Navigating the Amazonian Universe

November 19, 2003

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“Find Hitler Here,” I said to the computer expert.

“It’s right there,” he said.

“Not the old, out-of-print edition with the swastika on the cover. The current edition, with Hitler’s menacing portrait on the cover, the one you designed.”

The expert, who in his living room has two monitors as large as respectable television screens and four hard-drives for each, tentatively scrolled up and down the page on, squinting through glasses at the frightening price of the old publisher’s hardcover edition, then the link to the equally offensive price of the bygone trade paperback. He clicked that link and again faced the old edition’s swastika cover. While he rubbed his chin, his girlfriend and three cats, stirred by the search, stopped purring and began watching.

“Where is it, honey?” said his girlfriend. “I want to see your design online.”

He examined the old publisher’s data about book dimensions and ISBNs, and continued to roam the screen in confusion until I said, “All right, click on ‘All Editions’. That’s the only way to get there from here.”

“Yeah, there it is.”

“It scares me when a guy like you can’t find the official, in-print edition,” I said.

“I didn’t have any trouble starting from your web page.”

“But you were guided from there. This time you started in a much bigger place.”

Today, and certainly tomorrow, everyone interested in buying and selling books must learn to navigate the Amazon universe, which is already a marvel of commerce and variety, and by the hour becoming a more essential reference tool in bookstores and libraries. I just returned this evening from the large and art-filled Beale Library in Bakersfield, and had asked a lady at a computer to please call up Bowker’s Books In Print – the official source of all books and ISBNs.

“What’s that?”

“I have two books in print and want to see them in the official data base,” I said.

As she grimaced, I stepped briskly away and up the stairs to the second floor where I asked another lady, who replied, “We don’t subscribe to that anymore. We use Amazon.”

That’s how influential this commercial site has become – one of very few in any business offering enough information to be considered an official industry reference bible. Amazon’s not quite as comprehensive as Books In Print, but it’s available to anyone with Internet access.

I’m fifty-one and was already in my forties when I timidly began using computers. I thought they were superfluous, for youngsters nursed in cyberspace or middle-aged folks with innate technological wizardry. Now, despite the headaches it sometimes incurs, I want to know what my computer is saying. I have to see what’s happening. I need to find out what’s on Amazon.

But please, I keep writing the folks at that esteemed cyber kingdom, don’t bury a live book under a dead one.

George Thomas Clark

George Thomas Clark is the author of Hitler Here, a biographical novel published in India and the Czech Republic as well as the United States. His commentaries for are read in more than 50 countries a month.

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