Saturday, March 30, 2013

Amazon, Goodreads, Questions

As many have already noted in the blogosphere, Amazon has acquired Goodreads. Of course, no one knows what this portends. An email I received from Goodreads sounds all well and fine. Here it is in its entirety:

"Hello Forrest,

Today is a very big day for all of us at Goodreads. As you may have seen on our blog, we are joining the Amazon family.

We greatly appreciate all you do as a Goodreads Librarian so we wanted to reach out to you individually since you play an important role in our community.

You’ll be glad to know that this announcement is great news for our catalog. Amazon metadata will be returning to the site, and we will have an even more comprehensive record of self-published books, as well as more complete records of international books. We will continue to link to a variety of sites on our book pages, of course, including OCLC WorldCat for library data. All of your reviews and ratings will remain on Goodreads.

By joining the Amazon family, the Goodreads team will be able to invest more in the things that our members care about. We’ll also be working together on inventing new services for readers and authors. As part of this, we’ll be increasing the size of our team over time, and will be able to add lots of great new features that members and librarians will be excited about!

I can’t make this clear enough – we plan to continue growing Goodreads and investing in making it a great community for librarians, and everyone else.

We said in our blog post that our team gets out of bed every day motivated by the belief that the right book in the right hands can change the world. Now Goodreads can help make that happen in an even bigger and more meaningful way as part of the Amazon family.

Here’s to the next chapter!

Otis, Elizabeth, and the Goodreads Team"
Seems tame enough. My first reaction was to ask whether or not Goodreads will be forced to comply with the recent decision, made by and for the Amazon website, that authors can no longer review other authors' work. Now, I can see why Amazon would put such a policy into play (to avoid conflict of interest and the subversion of another authors work, etc), but I disagree with it. Whether or not I disagree with it is largely irrelevant. Amazon is a corporate superpower and will decide what it decides regardless of what I think. And that's its right as a private enterprise. I don't like it, I don't have to like it, but I do have to live with it. C'est la vie. When I'm CEO of Amazon for a day, I can change that policy. i.e., I'll have to suck it up.
My concern is that Goodreads, which has, up to this point, remained largely aloof from any one corporate interest, suddenly seems to be in the pocket of an organization whose censorship policies I am forced to live with. And as I've said many times before, I love Goodreads.
Another question I have: Will Goodreads, then, only allow reviews of books available on Amazon? What about the thousands of independent works published at Smashwords and other venues not currently associated with Goodreads is a great place for these voices to be heard, or at least a great place for independent authors to get reviewed and noticed (or reviewed and ignored). Will that door be shutting?
Finally, what about the wonderfully snarky reviews I love of books that I hate. Will there be a place for that, or will Amazon's quest for feel-good reviews and their seeming need to raise the self-esteem of authors who have written rather poor work (by limiting or eliminating negative reviews, which they have been known to do) make it even more difficult to winnow through the chaff that exists out there?
On the one hand, there is a danger that Goodreads may come under the thumb of those who hold the marketing dollars, limiting the breadth of the books we are allowed to review, which is akin to libraries being bought out by corporations and censored by their executive boards, in my book (no pun intended). On the other, there is the danger that the Amazon positive-review-fest might further confuse potential readers and allow for much more dreck to be gussied up with clever marketing schemes and undeserved positive reviews, muddying the waters for those of us on the lookout for a good book (partially by avoiding books that most or all of your friends and those with your tastes agree are not worth your time).
I've sent a missive to Goodreads in response to the above letter, asking these very questions. I don't know that I'll hear back - I don't expect to, honestly. 
But the one question that I could not ask, that I dare not ask of the honeymooning Goodreads and Amazon teams, is: "Can you really maintain the balance that makes Goodreads such a wonderful place to freely discuss books without censorship?"
I'm very afraid that I'm not going to like the answer.
Just in case: Is there an alternative to Goodreads not named "Facebook"?


  1. Here's a list of alternatives:

    Here's a link to the group who created the list.

    1. Thanks, Bungle! For the moment, I'm feeling a little better about things, given this: