So as the month of March drew to a close earlier this year, Amazon buys GoodReads. CrunchBase estimates that they paid around 150 million for the popular social site for book lovers, although Amazon has not disclosed the actual numbers on this deal.
This move hardly comes as a surprise to me, though many GoodReads users seemed shocked and appalled for various reasons. I can understand appalled, but shocked hardly seems an appropriate reaction when you consider the 16 million avid users it has amassed since it was founded six years ago, in 2007.
Amazon’s Acquisition of Shelfari
Not to mention Amazon’s 2008 acquisition of Shelfari, another social community for book readers that seems to have gone mostly stagnant since being bought out by the eBook giant. Many people automatically assume that Amazon made a mistake here and that Shelfari was a failure, but is that true? Probably not.
This post from The Digital Reader reports that the most active user on Shelfari these days is called X-Ray. Based on the fact that this user has added 900 thousand character names from books as well as 491 thousand first sentences, the author makes the likely assumption that X-Ray is largely automated.
They also mention that a writer they know who sold 14,000 copies of her book in the Kindle store in a single month received an email notification from Shelfari, informing her of several character names having been added to the listing for her book following a spike in her Kindle sales.
Amazon’s Publishing Monopoly
In addition to purchasing Shelfari and now GoodReads, Amazon also owns at least some of LibraryThing. Together with the two book communities mentioned before it, LibraryThing is yet another collection of book information and depends largely on member’s contributions to organize their data and maintain the site.
However, it now stands almost alone against all of it’s main competitors which have been bought out by Amazon. In fact, the company’s founder and lead developer Tim Spalding is brainstorming the different ways that LibraryThing can work to set itself apart from GoodReads and survive in the face of Amazon and all its power.
Amazon may be on the edge of victory when it comes to wiping out companies like Barnes & Noble and are probably responsible for the death of brick and mortar bookstores across the globe, but are they actually monopolizing the publishing industry?
No more so than Google monopolizes search, in my opinion. Google has acquired dozens of web properties over the years and integrated them with their long list of products and services, yet the general public opinion about the two enormous corporations is somewhat different.
Not to say that Google hasn’t been accused of unfairly squashing their competition by promoting their own services in search results, but most people have less of a problem with them than Amazon it seems.
Why I’m Sad About GoodReads
While I personally don’t harbor feelings of animosity towards Amazon regarding its hold on the market, I am a little disappointed to hear that GoodReads sold out to them. I think competition is generally a good thing that should be encouraged.
What did I love about GoodReads the most? A few things.
First, I loved the type of users it attracted. These were book lovers and avid readers first and foremost, consumers second. This made the community rich with opinion and diversity. It gave GoodReads its unique flavor.
Second, it was an outstanding source of book reviews for independent authors and books that weren’t backed by big name publishers. It didn’t show favoritism when it came to retailers and it provided links to buy books in dozens of different places. The reviews were fair because they were posted on a neutral platform.
This is unlikely to remain true now that Amazon controls everything behind the scenes.
I’m also not alone in my disappointment in response to this acquisition either. In fact, Twitter was flooded with similar concerns by other GoodReads users shortly after the news broke.
Reassurances From GoodReads
It would appear that CEO Otis Chandler anticipated less than thrilled reactions from GoodReads users, as you can see from his carefully chosen words in an email sent out to the most devoted of GoodReads users (known as librarians, they are responsible for adding and maintaining a huge chunk of book data on the site) shortly after closing the deal with Amazon:
“Today is a very big day for all of us at Goodreads. As you may have seen on our blog, we are joining the Amazon family…You’ll be glad to know that this announcement is great news for our catalog. Amazon metadata will be returning to the site, and we will have an even more comprehensive record of self-published books, as well as more complete records of international books…By joining the Amazon family, the Goodreads team will be able to invest more in the things that our members care about…”
In this interview with both Chandler and Amazon’s VP of Kindle content, he goes on to offer vague and uncertain hope that GoodReads will continue to offer links to buy titles from competing retailers, including B&N and a long list of others. When asked if such links will remain on the site, Chandler ended his reply with,
“… If users really want those links [to other retailers], then those links will probably still be there.”
Did Amazon Need GoodReads?
If you’re asking me, I’d say no. They already had enough social engagement for indie authors via Author Central. It links up authors with each product page for the books they have written, allows them to add an author bio, book trailer, Twitter account, blog feed and photos. That was more than sufficient.
GoodReads, on the other hand, linked to the Kindle product page for every title listed for an author, indie or otherwise.
For these two sites to merge makes no sense to me. Amazon doesn’t need to own every single online book community that gains traction, but by the looks of things…that’s exactly what is bound to happen.
While I remain somewhat skeptical about the future of GoodReads, I do take comfort in the fact that Amazon has a very friendly attitude towards self-published authors and it would seem in their best interest to try and improve things for that group of writers. We will see.