Could the “Amazon Family” Actually Be Good for Goodreads?

I like Goodreads. It’s a nice little site. Come visit if you’ve never been. Readers talk about books without all that pressure of having to put on pants and brush their hair. We form book clubs, discussion groups, have a little chat around the virtual fireplace. Literary movements have been and continue to be born there. Even though every time I log in, it reminds me that I’m a slow reader who is not living up to her ill-considered 2013 Reading Challenge Goal, as a reader, I like the place. And if, as an author, you don’t hard-sell or spam (you don’t, do you?), it’s a good place to launch a new book with a giveaway and interact with readers. Unless they are clearly abusive, no vague, Big-Brotherish policy steps in and strips away your reviews.

Okay, I’m not thrilled about a few things. It’s not the most intuitive interface in the world, and it’s about as user friendly as an eighty-page tax form. It doesn’t offer an easy way to sample a book. But you can pull up any site on the interwebs and make a laundry list of complaints.

Now. Unless you’ve become one with your LazyLump chair in front of eight hundred meaningless college basketball games, you’ve probably heard that the founders of Goodreads are wicked excited about getting wads of sweet, sweet cash joining the Amazon family.

While Scott Turow and the Authors’ Guild cry monopoly on Amazon, I’m not going to use this post to thump the online giant. Many of you have done it with such grace and panache that I’m not going there. Well, not much. But let’s do a reality check, yes? For all of its flaws and the monopolistic gleam in that somewhat evil looking smiley logo, Amazon has made it a ton and a half easier for self-published authors to have a platform. Yes, they are making money off of us. Yes, the system is flawed. Yes, some players on the Kindle Boards eat their young. Or at least that’s what I read on Wikipedia. But only a few years ago, if you intended on self-publishing your book without the use of one of those “services” that steal your rights and rob you blind (not that I’m judging or anything), you had to pony up some major dinero to a printer, learn something about the printing process, and store hundreds of copies of your baby in the garage, where they would hopefully not be destroyed by floods, mold, or wildlife. I used to work for one of those printers and had been negotiating the cost of a print run when… Amazon bought CreateSpace. Wicked cool, I thought. My health immediately rallied when I learned I wouldn’t have to sell a kidney to sell my print books.

And what’s that? Amazon bought a company, folded it into the “family” and actually produced something beneficial for authors and readers?

I know some of you have accused me of rampant optimism. I’m not as twinkly-eyed as author Hugh Howey, who is probably out buying a set of his-and-hers bath towels after telling the media that “I just found out my two favorite people are getting married. The best place to discuss books is joining up with the best place to buy books.”

Yet having worked in advertising, public relations, publishing, and printing, I’ve been merged-and-acquired out of several jobs. I know what often happens when the boss calls a company-wide meeting and starts spinning the positives of a buyout. I also had a nice little royalty-producing database of web articles disappear when Yahoo bought and destroyed Associated Content.

But we don’t know the full ramifications of the Amazon-Goodreads deal, so I’m not giving in to gloom and doom just yet. In fact, I’m willing to go out on a bit of a limb and imagine the good that an infusion of cash and market power could mean for Goodreads. A user-friendly interface. No more “system too full” errors when you try to log on. The ability to sample books. Bringing back the Amazon links, where most indies live.

My crystal ball is in the shop, so I don’t know what will actually happen — if the “independent” spirit of Goodreads reviews will stand, if Nook and Kobo users will be marginalized. I hope the parties involved will stick to their assurances that these integral tenets of Goodreads’ appeal will stand, as Goodreads founder Otis Chandler stated in an interview with Laura Hazard Owen on the day of the announcement: “One of the extremely important things to us is for readers to share what they’re reading, no matter how they’re reading. We have no plans to change that. We want Goodreads to be a place for readers of all types to share their favorite books. You can expect to see customizations and better integrations for people who do use Kindle. For everyone else, Goodreads will remain largely as it is.” [read full interview here]

Although given Amazon’s recent move into publishing, coupled with this new acquisition and the launch of Bookish.com, a book-recommendation site backed by several Big-Fivers, I’m willing to bet that a few Random Penguins are nervous. Or busily consulting their legal teams. Or holding a really big bake sale to raise funds for the survival of Barnes & Noble.

Your turn: where do you see this move ending up?

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

27 thoughts on “Could the “Amazon Family” Actually Be Good for Goodreads?”

  1. Hey, I had the “family” over for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. That’s enough. Call ’em The Corp. Call ’em Engulph “N Devower. Just don’t call Amazon a “family.” 🙂

    1. Hi, TImothy. I was just using the language from Goodreads’ own press release announcing the deal. “Excited to be part of the Amazon family” or something like that. 😉

  2. I agree Laurie. This will have ramifications, we just don’t know what yet. But I suspect, like you, that there are more than a few nervous nellies out there waiting for the shake-out. But with all due respect (don’t you hate that phrase?) I’m a little miffed that Indies Unlimited didn’t buy Amazon, instead of entertaining the idea of the reverse. After all, IU is supposed to be watching out for all of us, right? I mean seriously…get it together, would ya’? Put that Uzi to good use 🙂

  3. When I first read about this, especially in light of the problems with reviews. I had a fit but I’ve calmed down considerably. We have no control over this so I’ve taken a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

  4. Color me cautiously optimistic. I’ve been there, too, Laurie, when the boss calls a staff meeting and talks in gushing terms about the big buyout while handing out pink slips. But over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about Amazon’s other purchases — LibraryThing, Shelfari, IMDb — and realizing that in this case, too, Amazon’s primary interest is probably in the data it’s acquiring in the deal.

    I do hope Goodreads does more with this infusion of cash than, say, LibraryThing has (nice place, but their interface is comfortably stuck in the mid-2000s, y’know?). Increasing their server power would be a good start — those “come back later, we’re busy” notices are frustrating.

  5. Lynne, I’m pretty sure they’re after the data. All those motivated readers (what they read, how they read, etc.) are probably making Amazon’s data team’s palms itch.

  6. So much for those who keep saying Amazon doesn’t care about books.
    Futurists have said there will eventually be but 6 corporations in the world. Walmart will be one. It’s looking like Amazon has a shot at it. What this means to the average writer is beyond me, other than better have a Amazon and Goodreads membership card.

    1. Timothy – ever see the movie “Demolition Man” with Sly Stallone? In the future, the eatery franchise wars will be won by one corporation – and ALL restaurants will be Taco Bell.

  7. I kinda took the long view myself. My first thought was, “could anyone really make Goodreads more confusing?” Probably not. My second one was something along the lines of “who cares?” My final thought is simply, “wherever Amazon goes, there it is.” So there it is. Not sure why they didn’t consult me on it. Obviously I am a deep thinker, having had three thoughts and all of them brilliant. Well okay, that’s lunch. Think I’ll take the afternoon off as a personal day.

  8. Excellent, and I agree. Rewind five or even ten years ago and try and get your work out to readers and be fairly compensated. Sure, if you were traditionally published you had a shot, I’m just not sure about the “fairly compensated” part. Amazon have changed the whole playing field and I don’t fault them at all for trying to grow their business. They’re just trying to do what we’re all trying to do (on a much larger scale of course). Great post, Laurie.

  9. If I’ve learned anything in all my years on earth it’s that change is inevitable and though we may not always like the outcome we can try to find a way to make it work for us. So, while I wait for the smoke to clear, I’ll just keep on writing.

  10. Of course, one reason for Amazon to do this is to make sure nobody else does.

    If the Big Five/Six had ANY sense, one of them would have bought Goodreads a year or two ago. Right now, Amazon has more sales data on more readers than anyone else on the planet. Second best? Goodreads. Acquiring Goodreads would have ENORMOUSLY benefited any publisher that did so. Heck, it might have actually made one of the Big Publishers competitive with the Amazon imprints. Data is everything in this business. Amazon has it. Goodreads has it. Now Amazon has Goodreads…

    I suspect Amazon didn’t really need Goodreads anywhere near as much as Random House did. And it’s likely Amazon acquired it to prevent a rival from trying to catch up with them in data acquisition.

    1. Oh, sure. I’m sure the data was radioactively attractive. I think Bookish was meant to be the Trad5/6 answer to Goodreads. Should be interesting…

      1. If the AG takes action over this, after ignoring Hydra, Harlequin’s shell game to rip writers off, and Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions, they’ll just be setting themselves up as an even bigger laughing stock than they already are.

        They might anyway, though. After all, we all know the so-called Author’s Guild is actually one of the biggest spokes groups for big publishing.

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