Online retailer Amazon.com has acquired book social media website Goodreads. The deal, which finalizes in the second quarter of 2013, marks a major move on the part of the bookseller for book discovery features. The move would appear to have some positive benefits to readers around the world, while at the same time spelling out some troubling implications for the book selling and reading community.
Goodreads launched in 2007 by Otis Chandler, and his partner (now wife) Elizabeth, who wanted to bring the book browsing experience to an online venue after scanning a friend’s bookshelf to see what they had been reading. The site has quickly become the largest reading social media site on the internet, which now boasts over 16 million users and 23 million reviews, according to their website.
In the press release announcing the purchase, Amazon.com vice president of Kindle Content Russ Grandinetti stated: “Goodreads has helped change how we discover and discuss books and, with Kindle, Amazon has helped expand reading around the world. In addition, both Amazon and Goodreads have helped thousands of authors reach a wider audience and make a better living at their craft. Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike.”
A recent buzzword in the book industry has been ‘Book Discovery’. With an enormous catalog of physical and digital books and content, Amazon has changed the metrics of the book selling industry. With an ever-growing amount of content for readers to consume every day, the trouble for emerging authors is one of standing out in the crowd, something that becomes ever more difficult between the content produced by professional organizations and self-published authors. Amazon’s acquisition comes after the long-awaited launch of Bookish, a competing website designed for book discovery and backed by several major publishers, including Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster.
It’s clear that Goodreads has elements of something that Amazon both needs and wants: easier methods for readers to discover new books, filtered through their friend’s recommendations. Goodreads is appealing due to its highly networked population, which has aided authors in breaking out from the pack. Goodreads provides a section in each book section that directs a user to a place to purchase said book. Undoubtedly Amazon could provide an efficient and streamlined route for readers to purchase books and content within its own ecosystem. The platform seems to be destined to fall under the Kindle department at Amazon, which could easily take advantage of Goodread’s preexisting infrastructure.
The move is worrisome for some authors, readers and booksellers. Indeed, Goodreads had issues with Amazon.com recently, dropping their application programming interface (API) over concerns that the rights were too restrictive. The fences seem to have been mended with this move. A spokesperson for Goodreads could not be reached for comment about how Goodreads user agreement would change.
More than the technical challenges that would come with a site merger or partnership is the overwhelming dominance that Amazon continues to hold over the book selling community. With the Goodreads acquisition, Amazon will be privy to an impressive amount of raw user data on reading habits, comments, and reviews, and it’s unknown just how this will be used moving forward.
Additionally, this move looks to further consolidate the book selling industry – with all of its component parts, including book discovery, acquisition, and networking – under its own roof, a worrying prospect for publishers, competitors, and authors, all of whom will be subject to the mercy of Amazon.com’s policies. In recent months, Amazon.com has prevented authors from leaving reviews on other books, and removed books from a publisher’s catalog in an argument over how much publishers can charge for their products.
In the short term, this move appears to be a win for both companies: Goodreads is an entirely logical platform for Amazon to look to, providing some much needed help when it comes to book recommendations and discovery – no small feat, given the size of its catalog. Goodreads stands to have the full force of Amazon.com and its technical infrastructure behind it, which is impressive in and of itself. While both companies stand to make out well, it will remain to be seen how this change will impact readers and reviewers alike, who are continually at the mercy of the site’s policies when it comes to finding something to read.