As the leading social networking site devoted to books, GoodReads has been considered an important element in addressing the "discoverability" problem that grew with spread of e-books and Amazon and the collapse of Borders: How would readers discover books if fewer of them were visiting the best source for learning about new books, bricks-and-mortar bookstores?
In one fell swoop, Amazon, whose algorithms for recommending books have shown limited effectiveness, now owns one of the major tools built to address the problem it created.
On the Goodreads blog, CEO and co-founder Otis Chandler said the site "will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site--the ability to track what you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors--and your reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads. And it's incredibly important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even stone tablets."
But judging from the reaction of booksellers, publishers and some Goodreads users, the process may not be so easy. The overwhelming feeling expressed yesterday on Twitter and Facebook was surprise and disappointment. @NextGenAuthors tweeted us: "Hey, your April Fool's edition doesn't come out until Monday!" Many indies and their fans promptly cancelled their accounts.
The question is how a site that was prized for its independence and noncommercial cred will fare as a part of the Amazon empire. As one person commented on Otis Chandler's own blog on Goodreads: "I liked/would prefer a community of readers not backed by someone with motives to a) unrelentingly mine my data and b) sell me stuff."
In response to Chandler's comment that "We truly could not think of a more perfect partner for Goodreads as we both share a love of books and an appreciation for the authors who write them," Jarek Steele of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., wrote on his blog: "Really, Goodreads? You've forsaken all the other opportunities to partner with independent bookstores, Kobo, even Barnes & Noble & the Nook? How about iPad? Also, who at Amazon has a love of books or authors?"
The Amazon record concerning book world companies it's purchased isn't encouraging. While some non-book purchases, like Zappos, have remained independent and fared well, some book purchases are either merged into Amazon World or left to die on the Internet vine, such as Lexcycle and, most tellingly, Shelfari, which, like Goodreads, is a social media site focused on books.
Only last year, Amazon and Goodreads had a public fight that led to Goodreads choosing to use Ingram data instead of Amazon's because of Amazon's requirement that its data not link to another retailer. There was no word on how this might change.
Goodreads has also been marked by a kind of openness that runs contrary to Amazon's penchant for secret. Otis Chandler has spoken at many conferences, giving details about site usage, and Goodreads shares information with publishers. It's likely all that will change very soon.
The move also adds to the sense that Amazon is slowly buying up much of the book world. Over some 15 years, the company has bought AbeBooks.com, Audible.com, Brilliance Audio, the Book Depository, Shelfari, BookFinder.com, Lexcycle, BookSurge, CreateSpace, Mobipocket.com and (through AbeBooks) 40% of Library Thing.
Wired summed up this feeling well, beginning its story on the Amazon purchase of Goodreads with this: "Amazon looked back to its roots in bookselling and forward to its future as the global overlord of all reading and writing by announcing its plan today to purchase social reading site Goodreads."
Forbes called the move a slap in the face of publishers, writing that it's no coincidence that the deal came seven weeks after Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster launched Bookish.
"It's a brilliant move by Amazon," Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Co. told the Wall Street Journal. "If you are a book marketer, the two places you think about the most in terms of online marketing opportunities are Amazon and Goodreads." He added, "It makes me question whether Amazon's competitors are awake. How could they let this happen?"
And in his inimitable style, Knopf's Paul Bogaards tweeted, "That's what all you morons get for sharing your books online."
We haven't had a chance to think through the consequences, but I certainly feel betrayed: we've been building our Goodreads community recently, but really didn't expect it would land in Amazon land!