Amazon to acquire Goodreads

The biggest news in the book industry this long weekend is Amazon’s plan to acquire Goodreads, a social media site for readers. No, this is not an April Fools’ joke.

Amazon is undeterred in its path to world domination, announcing its plan to acquire Goodreads, in what is sure to be a blow for readers who loved Goodreads precisely because it’s not affiliated with major players in the book industry. The deal is expected to close by June 2013.

Do I care? Maybe.

The thing is, Goodreads isn’t exactly the haven for readers that some think it is. There have been appalling reports and evidence of threatening behaviour on Goodreads that, I feel, Goodreads has failed to properly address or manage. In many ways, I’ve come to feel that Goodreads values authors more than they do readers. I use Goodreads as a reading journal, to ensure I don’t buy duplicate books, and to record reviews posted on Book Thingo. That’s about it. Rarely do I participate in Goodreads socially, and when I do, it’s almost always with readers I already have a relationship with via Twitter or through blogs.

Amazon’s acquisition of what I consider more of a tool than a community is therefore interesting because I’d like the tool not to break or do a worse job than it did before, but that’s about as passionate as I can manage to feel on the subject. Your mileage may vary.

What might happen to Goodreads in the future?

TechCrunch has a summary of the potential direction that Amazon might want to take Goodreads, and the two key areas seem to be around Kindle integration and improved algorithms for book recommendations. It’s too soon to tell if Amazon will screw around with the user-facing design of Goodreads to align it more tightly to the Amazon shop, but according to Forbes, doing so may not be in Amazon’s best interests, at least in the near future:

Obviously, Amazon would rather not send potential book buyers to its competitors. But with a new anti-trust lawsuit accusing it (and the six biggest publishers) of wielding too much control over the e-book market, this isn’t the time to be seen as acting like a monopoly.

Dear Author also predicts that not much will change, based on what we’ve seen so far with Book Depository and Abe Books, but that we’ll see a tighter coupling between Goodreads and the Amazon shop—not noticeable enough to annoy us (hopefully), but prominent enough to give Amazon an advantage over its competitors.

With Amazon already owning Shelfari, this leaves LibraryThing as one of the few alternatives for readers who prefer to keep their data away from Amazon. This post by LibraryThing creator Tim Spalding explains why, despite the fact that Amazon also has an indirect stake in this venture.

Is there anything Amazon doesn’t touch?

Spalding comments that:

Amazon/Goodreads realigns friends and enemies. Publishers are desperate to find a way out of the Amazon trap—needing Amazon, but also competing more and more with Amazon’s own publishing operations, and finding their individual and collective power declining as Amazon’s grows. As I read it, funding Bookish was one attempt to get out of this trap. The independence of Goodreads suited them too. Now that Goodreads is just Amazon, the time and money publishers spend on Goodreads is like everything else they do with Amazon—good in the short term, but suffocating them in the long-term.

In this opinion piece at the The Digital Reader, some publishers have only themselves to blame for trying to compete with Goodreads rather than taking the opportunity to acquire Goodreads a few years ago, for a much more modest sum than Amazon will be paying (estimated at around $150 million). The Digital Reader article is scathing in its criticism, which basically amounts to three big publishers lacking any understanding of how social media works.

What are the alternatives?

If Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads leaves a bad taste in your mouth, here are some alternatives that you might like to try:

LibraryThing — LibraryThing is the most likely haven for people moving away from Goodreads. Although Amazon has a stake in the company, it does not have a controlling interest. The biggest downside is that you can only add 200 books before you have to pay a subscription fee. It’s fairly inexpensive, though, at $10 per year or $25 for life. To take advantage of Goodreads defectors, they currently have an offer to waive the first year’s fee, but you need to hurry, because it expires March 31 (US time).

weRead — This was the first personal online library I used, back when it was just a Facebook app. I think I left weRead because it moved out of Facebook and I decided to go with Goodreads instead, and it also doesn’t have an export function, which means there’s no way to get your library out of weReads easily if you decide to try a different product in the future.

The Reading Room — The Reading Room is an Australian-based company, and its interface is clean and attractive. The downside is that the catalogue is nowhere near as extensive as Goodreads’—not even for Australian books. It doesn’t allow readers to add to the catalogue—new titles and covers have to be uploaded by the RR team—and there are no apps for mobile devices.

Riffle — I was recently sent an invitation to try Riffle, but I couldn’t take up the offer because it requires logging in using a Facebook account. I’m told, however, that Twitter integration is coming, so I’ll have more to say when that’s available. It sounds like this one is aimed more at people with an interest in promoting their book recommendations via social media—so authors, publishers and possible reviewers, rather than readers per se.

Dear Author also has a list of potential alternatives to Goodreads.

Are you looking for a Goodreads alternative? Which ones are you considering?

Kat Mayo is a freelance writer, podcaster, Twitter tragic, and compulsive reader. Her reviews have appeared in Books+Publishing, and she was the winner of the 2014 RWA Romance Media Award. She believes in happy endings, and kills fairies with glee.

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