An Open Letter to Goodreads

March 30, 2013 Uncategorized 2

An Open Letter to Goodreads:

Dear Goodreads,
I don’t know if you expected the storm of protest that greeted your announcement of Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads.  I’m sure you’re finding it upsetting, but I  hope that you’ll pay attention to the real concerns buried among all the sky-is-falling negativity.
It seems to me that there are a lot of advantages to Amazon in this deal, and that Kindle integration (which only affects some of your readers) is the only real advantage for Goodreads – other than an infusion of capital, which I’m sure is welcome and which I hope will help you continue to develop and improve Goodreads.  I would sincerely like to hear your ideas on other ways this will benefit all Goodreads readers, not just Kindle readers. 
I’ve been reading a lot of the responses, both on Facebook and on Goodreads, and I’ve contributed a few myself.  Here are some of the concerns I think are really legitimate, with suggestions where appropriate:

  •  Data:Amazon will now have access to all our Goodreads reading data.  Because of our email addresses, they will be able to link that to our Amazon accounts, if we have them.  Even if we don’t, they will be able to target email advertising to us based on our Goodreads library.   As an Amazon customer, I already get enough email from Amazon;  I really don’t want more.  I imagine that’s even more true for people who, for one reason or another, prefer not to shop with Amazon.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any way to avoid this data-mining.  It’s probably one of the things that made Goodreads such an attractive company for Amazon.  But it would be really wonderful if Goodreads could provide an option for members to withhold their data from Amazon. 
  •  Reviews:

a.       Content ownership: There have been a lot of comments from Goodreads members about Amazon “owning” their reviews.  Apparently they haven’t read the Goodreads terms of use, because the clauses governing each company’s license to use, modify, and distribute content posted by its members are virtually the same.  The main difference is that Amazon doesn’t include the phrase “nonexclusive” to describe the license grant.  However, leaving out “nonexclusive” doesn’t guarantee them an “exclusive” right to the content.  The content creator should still, if I’m interpreting that correctly, retain ownership and the right to use their content.  However, I’m not a lawyer, and I think a lot of Goodreads members would appreciate a clear, plain-English statement explaining both the Goodreads and Amazon license agreements for reviews and detailing any differences.
b.      Double-posting of reviews to both sites:  It’s clear that there are a lot of members who don’t want their Goodreads reviews posted to Amazon.  It’s also clear that other members would love the convenience of double-posting.  If you’re going to do this, please make it optional, not automatic.  That way, you satisfy both sides.
c.       Amazon’s review policies: Amazon has rules about review length and even content that differ from Goodreads.  They also have a history of removing legitimate reviews in some cases, and I have seen complaints that authors are not allowed to review other authors’ works.  Goodreads members would probably appreciate some reassurance that Goodreads will continue to set its own review policies rather than have Amazon’s policies imposed on it, including allowing authors to write reviews.  (After all, authors are also readers!)
d.      Ratings: Goodreads and Amazon’s rating systems are different.  If reviews are double-posted or shared across the two sites, how will this be dealt with?

  •  Integration of Goodreads and Amazon accounts:  There are features some people would really like to integrate, while other members don’t want any communication between their Goodreads and Amazon accounts at all.  Please allow members to choose whether to allow communication and integration between the accounts.  There are plenty of reasons members might wish to avoid linking their accounts.  In my case, I’m a blogger, and my Goodreads account uses my blog name.  A number of my Goodreads friends are not known to me outside of Goodreads and the blogging community.  My Amazon account is a family account.  My family members may not want their purchases and reading habits “published” to strangers by inclusion in my Goodreads account.  And I don’t want my Goodreads reading data and recommendations affected by, for instance, my husband’s computer book purchases.

a.       Goodreads To-Read list and Amazon Wish List: Some members want these automatically integrated, while others (including me) definitely do not.  If there is any integration of the two, please make it optional.
b.      Adding books bought at Amazon to Goodreads shelves: Once more, please make it optional, not automatic, to accommodate Goodreads members who don’t want that level of integration.  (For one thing, if it were automatic, it would add books bought as gifts to one’s Goodread to-read shelf, regardless of whether one actually wanted to read it or not.)

  • Kindle integration: This may be great for Kindle owners – though it will require them to link their Goodreads and Amazon accounts.  But please don’t lose sight of the fact that many of us don’t use Kindle, or don’t use Kindle exclusively.  (I wish that your recent poll of people who read on e-readers had taken into account those of us who don’t own a Kindle, Nook, or iPad, but nonetheless read a lot of ebooks – I think there may be more of us out there than you think.)  I am delighted by your reassurances that no existing services will disappear, and non-Kindle readers will still be able to enjoy Goodreads, but feel a little sad that I and other readers of ebooks will not be able to enjoy the same benefits as Kindle owners.

  • Links to other retailers and libraries:  Some members are concerned that these will go away – and it’s probably inevitable.  Will Amazon really allow you to continue including links to their competitors?  And will their competitors still want to deal with Goodreads?

  • Advertising:Yes, there has been advertising on Goodreads, but it’s not intrusive.  Many members, myself included, worry how much Amazon’s ownership will commercialize the site, and whether we will be bombarded by buttons, ads, and links to buy from Amazon.  Please don’t let the site become just another sales vehicle for Amazon.

As I wrote in my last post on the Goodreads discussion of the announcement, I am not planning to leave Goodreads.  It’s a wonderful community and a great tool for tracking my reading and posting reviews, and I hope it will continue to be so.  All of us who love Goodreads are counting on you to maintain the independence and integrity of Goodreads and the caliber of the Goodreads experience. 
Lark @ The Bookwyrm’s Hoard
Blogger and Goodreads member

2 Responses to “An Open Letter to Goodreads”

  1. Melissa Owens

    I think you’ve made a lot of excellent points here. So many reactions I’ve seen (but not all!) have tended towards the attitude of “the sky is falling!” I do see where many concerns, such as those you’ve noted, are very valid, but it is amazing how many people seem to believe we can kiss Goodreads good-bye as we know it. Honestly, I think a lot of people are being overly dramatic about it — especially since nothing has actually happened to Goodreads yet…

    Of course, I admit to being a bit of an Amazon-aholic when it comes to my shopping and I do use the Kindle App on my iPad, so there is definitely some integration I would be pleased to see between the two sites (such as having the option to post reviews there from Goodreads). But like you noted in many instances, I think the key is making certain features optional.

    I have finally gotten a pretty thorough catalog together of all of my books and books I’ve read on Goodreads and I love being able to track my TBR piles there and cross-post my reviews there. At this point, I can’t imagine what Amazon might do to the site that would make me close my account.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post on the subject!!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Thank you, Melissa! I do think a lot of people are overreacting. Hopefully most people will be willing to see how things go before deciding to jump ship, as it were. I really like Goodreads, and as long as Amazon doesn’t get too pushy and intrusive or try to change too many things, it will probably be all right. Amazon has taken over at least some other companies without interfering with them too much — Zappos and IMDB among them. Of course, Goodreads is much more closely aligned to Amazon’s core business (or its original core, anyway), but Goodreads is also really good at what it does. So Amazon may be willing to leave Goodreads a fair bit of independence… we’ll see!