At around 5:00 pm on Thursday, my Twitter feed basically exploded at the news that Goodreads had been bought by Amazon. I’ve been on Goodreads for almost six years now; I also, as a rule, try to avoid giving Amazon money whenever I can.
Putting it far better than I could have, Rachel Fershleiser referred to Goodreads as “the last neutral space on the internet.” This was true. One of the the things that I liked about it was its relative agnosticism: going to a book’s page on Goodreads allowed you (if you so desired) to order the book from pretty much any online vendor imaginable. In an interview with Laura Hazard Owen, Goodreads’s Otis Chandler seemed to hedge on whether these links would remain:
As for specific design of [the links], we’ll see, but we really think about it from the user perspective. If users really want those links [to other retailers], then those links will probably still be there.
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez has some smart things to say about the deal as well. Though I think there are two different questions at work here. One is the ramifications of this deal on the bookselling world as a whole. Will it ultimately drive more people — and more money — Amazon’s way? Or will Goodreads continue as a (mostly) independent entity, with little changed except for an “an Amazon company” tag at the bottom of the page?
Part of what makes projecting outcomes here so difficult is that neither of the two examples of relatively freestanding companies purchased by Amazon — Zappos and IMDB — corresponds directly with Goodreads. Zappos sells things; IMDB is a research tool. Goodreads has elements of one, but is also damn good at recommending books — maybe the best, short of actually asking for a personal recommendation from a bookseller, librarian, or literary-minded friend.
Some of my friends have already deleted their Goodreads accounts. I haven’t yet, though I think it’s more likely than not that I will in the next couple of months. But for all that the announcement was greeted by a fair amount of skepticism by Goodreads users, will it matter? It raises the question: what’s the tipping point going to be, for me and for others? One of these has already happened; the other two are, I think, within the realm of possibility, though I’d guess that either would be at least a few months off.
- The purchase of Goodreads itself?
- A theoretical point in time when “buy” links to all sellers save Amazon are disabled?
- A theoretical point wherein — a la Flickr merging their user accounts with those of Yahoo! — your Goodreads account and your Amazon account become one?
I feel as though I’m in a similar position to the one I was in when Google announced that they were shuttering Reader. The main difference here, though, seems to be that a number of alternatives to Reader made themselves known almost immediately. I don’t know if I see this happening with an alternative to Goodreads. Part of what I’ve liked about being there is the social aspects — that if I finish a book and notice that a friend had also read it, I can send an email their way. Start a conversation. Maybe learn something about someone that I hadn’t realized before.
Even if I keep my account up and running exactly as it was before, that sense of community is going to change; more than a few close friends of mine are, I believe, in the “leave immediately” camp. The smaller my own circle on there gets, the less useful it becomes.
I’d love for there to be an alternative to Goodreads arising in the same way that, say, Feedly has positioned themselves as the heir to Google Reader. But is there money to be made in an online community of readers sharing the books they’ve read where the common element is an intense dislike (or distrust) of Amazon? It’s easy enough to export your Goodreads data; finding somewhere else to talk about books in a similar online setting may be far more difficult.