Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Amazon Acquiring Goodreads Could Mean for Readers and Writers

David and Goliath. A little extreme...or not? Source
David and Goliath. A little extreme...or not? Source
The big buzz in the book world today is that internet giant has reached an agreement to acquire Goodreads, the wonderful book-centric social network site used and loved by millions. What does this mean for us as authors and readers? The details have not been revealed, but I have some speculation on what the future could look like:

As of now, Goodreads has links on book pages to numerous retailers. For authors, this means that when a new reader checks out a book on Goodreads, she has the option to be directed to the retailer of her choice to make a purchase. A comment on the announcement blog post, left by a Goodreads employee, states, "... We have no plans to change how the links on our book pages work. ..." (emphasis mine) Maybe I'm a cynic, but I can't see the links staying as they are. (More likely, this is Goodreads' way of saying, "We won't change the way links work, but once Amazon is in control, all bets are off.") I can't imagine Amazon would ever, on a site it owns, link directly to its competition. Just like on IMDB, another Amazon-owned site, all links will point back to the mother ship.

Reviews, the backbone of the Goodreads community...with Amazon playing Big Brother, will the Goodreads review policy be changed? A statement, again found in the comments thread of their announcement post, added by a Goodreads employee, says, "We don't expect to make changes to our review policy. Our reviews are obviously a strength of our site, and we don't plan to change how we handle them." (emphasis mine) Again, the clever wording leads me to believe that they are leaving things open to change under the reign of King Amazon.

Amazon's review policy, while seemingly innocuous, is actually a huge problem for reviewers, many of whom have stopped reviewing on Amazon and now review strictly on personal blogs and Goodreads, because:
  1. Amazon claims ownership on reviews, meaning all the time and effort you put into crafting your review? ... that now belongs to Amazon, and they can use your words however they see fit.
  2. Authors are not allowed to review books on Amazon. You're an author? And a reader? Preposterous! Not too long ago, Amazon quietly (read: without warning) began deleting any reviews written by authors of books in the same genre. So I'm a YA author. And, not so coincidentally, I LOVE to read YA. But review it? Not allowed, according to Amazon.
  3. Amazon has very strict rules about the language reviewers use, ostensibly because they now own the words and don't want to be held responsible for anything inflammatory or offensive. While I personally prefer to read reviews that are honest, but kind (yes, even a negative review can be kind), many reviewers like to be snarky and even use - gasp! - some foul language. That's a no-go on Amazon.

Goodreads is a place where reviewers can say what they like, how the like, without fear of having their review removed without warning, or fear of their words being used to benefit a company (when they themselves are no longer even allowed to use the review on their own website, technically). Like I said above, the statement as of today is that there is no expected change for the review policy, but given Amazon's track record, reviewers are nervous, and rightly so.

While, on the author side of things, changes to the Buy Links and review policy may be the most worrisome aspects of this acquisition, readers may have a bigger issue with:

The loss of a neutral place to meet up and talk about books we love.

For years, that's exactly what Goodreads was. We could go and talk with fellow book nerds about the books and authors we adore, and there was no pressure to buy, because Goodreads had no vested interest in book sales. With Amazon owning the company, you better believe there's a vested interest; every member is now a potential customer. How long before our Goodreads pages look like Amazon sales copy?

So what is a reader to do?

There is very little out there by way of social network sites geared toward readers. Goodreads was basically it. Sure, Shelfari had a brief run where it looked like it might become popular. Then Amazon bought the site, failed to support it, and let it all but die. (Will this be the future for Goodreads? I doubt it.)

Another option is Library Thing. On the surface, it looks great: perhaps not as fully featured as Amazon, it has potential. After one adds 200 books, it is no longer free, but the pay options are very reasonable: $10 a year, or $25 for life. Under the surface, however, you will find that Library Thing is owned 40% by Amazon. (A note on that link: AbeBooks is now owned by Amazon, which is how ownership of Library Thing was acquired.)

So, yeah. If you want social networking revolving around books? It's owned by Amazon. That's your option, sorry. This Goodreads purchase just blasted open a HUGE niche in the social network market. Geek Husband and I are already scheming. :)

Your turn! What do you think about Amazon buying Goodreads? Are you concerned at all? Leave it in the comments.

(this post is cross posted at my personal blog.)

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