When news broke that Amazon bought Goodreads for close to $150 million, the book world freaked. People were scared and saddened — their honest, independent community was in the claws of the Amazon empire. Everyone’s in a rush to leave before the destruction hits.
This is the end of the “good” in Goodreads … isn’t it?
Maybe not. I’m not one to judge companies too early. No matter what their public face looks like, a company is a business, not a friendly neighbor. And if Goodreads is Joe Friendly and Amazon is the Mean Old Man, remember that Goodreads had a part in this transaction, too. Amazon didn’t pounce on an innocent bystander — or, if we’re still using the suburban analogy, catch him unsuspected with the water hose.
Right now, Goodread is still Goodreads, and you can’t be mad at it for making a new friend even if you don’t like the choice. So we’re all shifting that blame on to Amazon, the great evil that’s buying up the book market as rapidly as possible.
From a business standpoint, Amazon made a smart decision: Goodreads is an advantageous acquisition. But this doesn’t mean that it’s going to transform Goodreads from the ground up into something more flattering to its image.
In an announcement on its blog, Goodreads pointed out three reasons it was excited to join Amazon (emphasis mine):
“1. With the reach and resources of Amazon, Goodreads can introduce more readers to our vibrant community of book lovers and create an even better experience for our members.
2. Our members have been asking us to bring the Goodreads experience to an e-reader for a long time. Now we’re looking forward to bringing Goodreads to the most popular e-reader in the world, Kindle, and further reinventing what reading can be.
3. Amazon supports us continuing to grow our vision as an independent entity, under the Goodreads brand and with our unique culture.”
The key word there is “independent.” Goodreads founder Otis Chandler was quick to assure users that the website “and the awesome team behind it are not going away. Goodreads will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish.”
But many of the 16 million people who have registered with the site in the past seven years aren’t happy. Some have valid concerns. “Is it going to be required to use your Amazon login to get into GR, then?” one commenter asked. “What about us Nookies?” another said. And someone else admitted, “I get it, you need money. But I hope Amazon does not hinder the ability to buy books from other sites and prevent competition.”
Amazon’s move with Goodreads brings the fate of Shelfari, which the former owns, into uncertainty. The front page of the website is decorated with Amazon and Kindle ads, which may come to Goodreads as well. And it’s possible that Amazon may shut Shelfari down. After all, does it really need two (competing) book communities? One day, Goodreads may find itself in that same position, with Amazon dropping the axe.
Of course, most websites terminate at some point. They don’t stick around forever, no matter who is calling the time of death. And Amazon’s influence may mean Goodreads will be in even better shape for survival.
I agree with Dan Blank over at Huffington Post when he writes, “When I consider what this means to writers and readers, I would simply ask that they focus more on the things that haven’t changed, and will never change: why we write; why we read; and how we come together because of it.”
Obviously, not everyone is as optimistic. Rob Spillman at Salon.com likened the partnership to how “Poland `joined’ The Third Reich.” However, he acknowledged that Amazon has let other sites it has acquired, like IMDb, operate as they would normally. I bet most people don’t even notice Amazon’s presence on the movie site, let alone know the company owns it.
But books are different, Spillman said — Amazon is eating up the industry. And he’s not waiting around to see how the move turns out.
“I, for one, am not waiting around to be reassured,” he wrote. “Minutes after hearing the news, I closed my Goodreads account. Even so, my paranoid self can’t help but imagine that Amazon already has my data in its claws.”
He continued, “But even if Goodreads succeeds in keeping a semblance of independence, the era of naively posting one’s preferences is over. We collectively were under the delusion that Goodreads was different than the data-mining machine that is Facebook, when in fact we’re all just data waiting to be harvested.”
Spillman is, technically, correct: We are just data. But I take issue with his quickness to give up on Goodreads. This is the site that many of us — and maybe even Spillman himself, considering his passionate call to action — love and use regularly. It’s become a part of how we read and interact with others like us. We find the real voice of the book industry in its pages upon pages of reviews, blogs, and comments. Through it, we connect with readers from all over the world.
“Knowledge is power, and power is best shared among readers,” Chandler once wrote about why he started Goodreads. Now that power is shared with Amazon, too. But I’m not going to turn my back on either company so hastily, and I find it hard to believe that in dealing with Amazon, Chandler wouldn’t try to protect his vision of a welcoming place where readers can come together.
Yes, we should encourage more independent ventures, and Amazon buying Goodreads is a contradiction of that. I understand why some feel they can’t support it.
But Goodreads has given us a valuable gift over the years, and that’s something we shouldn’t so easily forget. Spillman says “we’re all just data now,” but that doesn’t have to carry such a negative connotation. No matter where we go, we’re walking data; information on who we are is always out there for the world to see. But that’s still different than being a number, and I’m going to give Amazon and Goodreads a little time to show which they’re more concerned with.
When you’re a number, your voice is never heard. You’re treated poorly and with disrespect. I find it hard to believe that such a strong community of readers could or will crumble overnight.
Data isn’t such a bad thing. Even if we don’t want to feed the beast that is Amazon, many of us already are — when we shop online, when we use our Kindles. It’s putting a lot of other, smaller companies out of business.
But if the future is Amazon’s control on the market — if we ourselves can’t take the responsibility to buy elsewhere to change that — then we can at least make sure our voices are heard, whether that means standing out against acquisitions like this one or continuing to be the readers we’ve always been. And that means saying together and connected and not letting Amazon drive us apart.
So what if Amazon discovers what books we like? Amazon already does this with what we buy, and rarely does its recommendations influence my purchasing decisions. Don’t we want to gather more insight into how we read, anyway, so we can make reading a bigger part of our lives — so we can learn how to foster its growth?
Even if Amazon does make its presence known through Goodreads, that doesn’t mean you have to buy from it. We can still nurture that indie spirit. We can still speak out.
Are you upset over the acquisition? Do you agree/disagree with any of my points? Let’s discuss.