Web-commerce giant Amazon.com published its "Most Well-Read Cities in America" list this week, with Cambridge, Mass., topping the list. A similar list released by Amazon in February 2010, ranked the "Top 20 Most Romantic Cities in America." The two lists varied by only two cities.
According to Amazon, the cities on the most-well-read list were determined by "compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle formats since Jan. 1 on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,00 residents." The leaders were Cambridge, Mass.; Alexandria, Va.; and Berkeley, Calif.
In 2010 when it released its "Top 20 Most Romantic Cities in America" list, Amazon said that ranking was based on sales data from books, music, and sexual wellness categories, including romance novels, sex and relationship books, romantic comedy DVDs, Barry White CDs and sexual wellness products. Topping that list were Alexandria, Va.; Miami; and Cambridge, Mass.
The only variations were Tallahassee, Fla., and Columbia, Mo, which appear on the well-read list but are replaced by Portland, Ore., and St. Louis, on the most-romantic list. Which raises the question: Do these lists prove anything other than the fact that Amazon has a heavy customer base in these cities?
The 2010 most-romantic cities list also included three cities at the very bottom of the list in terms of "romantic" purchases per capita. They were El Monte, Calif.; Paterson, N.J.; and Miami Gardens, Fla. Based on US Census Bureau data, the per capita income in each of these cities was just about half as much as the national average. Census data also reveals that the level of education is considerably lower than the national average in these three cities. Across the United States, 24.4 percent of the population has bachelor's degrees. But only 10.4 percent of the population have bachelor's degrees in El Monte, 9.4 percent in Paterson, and 7.8 percent in Miami Gardens.
Many of the cities labeled in the top of Amazon's categories are also the homes of major colleges and universities as well as large corporations.
What it seems that Amazon has really managed to measure is the affluence of each city, which makes a lot of sense if you're a retailer. But is there really any point in labeling these cities "well-read" and "romantic"?
Why not just call a spade a spade and say that these cities have money – and like to spend it online?
Christina Kim is a Monitor contributor.