On Thursday, Amazon and Goodreads both announced that Goodreads has become an Amazon subsidiary. To be precise, Amazon’s press release states that it “has reached an agreement to acquire Goodreads”, while Goodreads’ announcement to its readers phrased it “We’re Joining the Amazon Family!”
Reactions on Goodreads range from delighted to horrified. A lot of Goodreads users are concerned, but waiting to see what will happen. It’s clear from members’ responses that Goodreads’ independent status was important to them. The Goodreads founders, Otis and Elizabeth Chandler, assured Goodreads members in their announcement that “Amazon supports us continuing to grow our vision as an independent entity”, and that neither Goodreads nor the features members love will disappear. Nonetheless, many members are clearly worried, for a number of reasons both valid and invalid.
Amazon’s power and influence are already vast. The ratings, reviews, and personal reading history data available from Goodreads — the largest of the social reading communities — are probably why Amazon moved to buy Goodreads in the first place. Amazon already had its own social reading community, Shelfari, which it acquired in 2008. Shelfari hasn’t done particularly well (I hadn’t even heard of it until now, though I’m familiar with and a former member of LibraryThing, another competing independent site.) Some Goodreads members are reluctant to let Amazon have access to their reading data. Others, already Amazon customers, don’t really want to integrate the two accounts for a variety of reasons.
Looking at the acquisition from as objective a position as I can, there are a lot of advantages for Amazon and a few advantages for Goodreads. Amazon gets access to a huge list of potential customers’ email addresses and an enormous mine of reading data and reviews. They probably also get direct sales access to a large pool of existing and potential customers, certainly via Kindle integration and quite probably through a prominent “buy now” button of some sort. (Goodreads already has links to Barnes and Noble and other online retailers, including Amazon; Amazon could potentially eliminate any links to its competitors, which is another of the fears some Goodreads members expressed.) Frankly, it’s a no-lose proposition for Amazon.
The advantages to Goodreads — other than an infusion of capital, which is no doubt welcome — are less clear. Otis Chandler writes enthusiastically about integrating Goodreads with “the most popular e-reader in the world, Kindle.” That could indeed be a real plus for Kindle readers who are already Goodreads members, and will probably bring some current Kindle readers to Goodreads for the first time. However, it doesn’t help those of us who use other e-readers or no e-reader at all. A few non-Kindle-owning Goodreads members worried that they will be shut out of some of Goodreads features as a result.
It’s not clear in what other ways the integration will affect Goodreads members, other than their data being available to Amazon. In the responses I read, members were divided almost equally between wanting their Goodreads to-read list and Amazon wish list linked or integrated, and hating the idea. Others hope to easily or even automatically add books they buy on Amazon to their Goodreads shelves, and/or to have their reviews automatically post to both sites. The latter idea drew some negative responses from Goodreads members who do not want to post reviews on Amazon.
Amazon has also had a number problems with reviews on its own site, ranging from sock puppet reviews (designed to boost rankings of an author’s own books or bombard a competitor’s books with negative reviews) to arbitrary removal of reviews — if, for instance, the reviewer recieved a copy of the book from the author. Goodreads members, including several authors, expressed concerns that these issues might cross over to Goodreads. I’ve also heard that Amazon no longer allows authors to post reviews, though I don’t have confirmation of that fact. Authors on Goodreads, on the other hand, often review and enjoy discussing books as readers, not with any intention of promoting their own books. If Amazon does have such a policy, I would be sad to see it extended to Goodreads.
So far, I’ve tried to report on this news as objectively as I can, but as a Goodreads member, blogger, and Amazon customer, I can’t avoid being personally affected. I hope Goodreads will indeed be allowed to retain a good measure of independence, since that’s one of the things I really value about it. I hope it will continue to be a place where I and other readers can not only catalog and track our reading, but share reviews and thoughts with other readers, join groups to discuss particular genres/authors/works, meet authors whose books we love, and even participate in giveaways.
I worry, though, whether I’ll be allowed to keep my Goodreads account and my Amazon account separate. My Goodreads account is in the name of my blog; I use it to record my reading, share reviews I’ve already posted on this blog, and keep track of my frighteningly long TBR list. I use the shelves to catalog books and even designate which ones came from the library. My Amazon account, on the other hand, is in my real name, but it isn’t only mine — the whole family uses it, and we do a lot of our gift-buying through Amazon as well, so the books in Amazon’s database aren’t an accurate reflection of my reading tastes or habits. (Not that I’m buying books for other people that I find personally distasteful!) Also, I use my Amazon wish list not only for things I or other family members might like to own, but books I might use for research someday. I’d rather not lose those in the midst of my 500-odd to-read list, if (for instance) Amazon were to suck my Goodreads to-read list into my Amazon wish list. I also prefer not to make the link between my public, blogging self and my private family life too obvious.
As for Kindle integration, here’s what I wrote over on Goodreads:
I’m also concerned about the integration with Kindle because it favors Kindle over other e-readers. I currently use an older Sony Reader. While I’ve debated replacing it with Kindle when it dies, I haven’t made a final decision on that yet… in part because of the Big Brother nature of Kindle (and for that matter, Nook.) If you connect wirelessly, Amazon can see everything in your Kindle. I’m not entirely comfortable with that degree of privacy invasion, and I don’t want to feel pressured into choosing Kindle because of Goodreads.
Given my concerns, I’m feeling some trepidation over Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads. If they keep their promise to be supportive and allow Goodreads to function as a largely independent entity, albeit with Kindle integration, I can live with it. I love Goodreads, and I would be really sorry to leave it. On the other hand, if Amazon’s presence becomes too intrusive or annoying, I may have to rethink.
3/30/13, 12:10 p.m. EDT: Edited to add: As of late Friday night, there are 35 pages of member responses on Goodreads. The vast majority of them appear to be negative, and some of the more vocal protesters are planning to close their Goodreads accounts or go elsewhere. Interestingly, there is no longer a banner headline on the Goodreads home page. The link I posted at the top of this page still appears to take you to the announcement. The Goodreads team has responded with reassurance a few times on both Facebook and Goodreads, and urges members to send suggestions to email@example.com .
Other articles worth reading on this topic:
- NPR (Krishnadev Calamur)
- The New York Times (Leslie Kaufman)
- The Los Angeles Times (Andrea Chang)
- Forbes (David Vinjamuri)
- LibraryThing discussion (owner Tim Spalding and others)
- I’ve written an open letter to Goodreads , which tries to look at the concerns and desires its members have and what Goodreads could to to balance them.