So, Amazon is acquiring Goodreads, the deal is meant to be closed in Q2 2013. Obviously everybody has an opinion about it. So do I. For those of you that don’t want to read this long-rambling post to the very end, here a summary:
Pros and Cons
- Easier access for readers to published books, most likely no more manual adding of new books to the GoodReads catalogue necessary.
- Also a better user experience when Amazon’s master programmers take over.
- Potentially more sales for authors.
- Real danger that the spammers “discover” Goodreads and leave their fake reviews.
- Also, most likely, a heavy bias towards “buy this book on Amazon” instead of having a more open marketplace.
- Increase of Amazon’s monopoly position on the book market and of all things related to publishing, with all the dangers that go with that.
And now the long version ;-)
What is GoodReads anyway?
I jokingly refer to GoodReads often as “Facebook for Book Lovers”. It has 16 million members, 525 million books and publications catalogued and 23 million reviews published on the site (at the time of writing this, March 2013). In one word, it is the biggest social media platform for book lovers. People can sort their books in online book shelves, get recommendations based on their past reading history, can leave reviews, participate in quizzes, discussions and so on.
If for example you want to see what I am reading at the moment, just click on the GoodReads badge in the sidebar and you will be taken to my profile page, book shelves included.
Additionally it actively encourages authors to engage with their readers by providing them with a nice author page and the possibility to hold events such as book giveaways.
All in all, it is a relatively spam-free website, where real readers and real authors meet. But all this could now change rapidly. Why? Read on!
What is Amazon anyway?
Seriously, are you sure you are reading the right blog? OK, I stop kidding now. Amazon started as an online bookshop, became the biggest e-commerce site on the web (selling literally everything legally possible to sell) and entered the (self) publishing market some years ago. First by allowing authors to upload their books directly into the Kindle platform and then by adding Createspace for POD books into the mix. Today Amazon is the most important and powerful bookseller AND (self-) publishing platform in the world.
The big thing that Amazon has done for writers is to give indie (independent) authors basically the same chance as authors that are tied to a traditional publisher. Everybody that wants to, can nowadays publish and sell their book on Amazon, both as an e-version (Kindle) and as a print version (via Createspace). Which is great and has enabled many talented writers to get their work finally before reader’s eyes.
Amazon’s history of acquisitions
Since it was founded in 1994, Amazon has a strong history of acquiring smaller and bigger competitors, here is a selection of some of them as long as they are connected, however remotely, to the weird and wonderful world of writing and publishing:
- 1998 – Bookpages.co.uk, an UK online book retailer that later become Amazon.co.uk.
- 2005 – BookSurge, a print on demand company.
- 2005 – Mobipocket.com, an eBook software company.
- 2005 – CreateSpace.com, publisher of POD books, audio and videos.
- 2007 – Brilliance Audio, the then largest independent publisher of audiobooks in the USA.
- 2008 – Audible.com (audio books), AbeBooks (book retailer), Shelfari (book social media site), BookFinder.com and a 40% stake in LibraryThing.
- 2011 – The Book Depository.
- 2013 – GoodReads …
As I said, this is only a shortlist. The full one can be seen on >>> Wikipedia Article <<<
Some might call this list “impressive”, I call it more frightening. Why? Because it gives Amazon an ever increasing control over the book and publishing market. At the moment they are offering great royalties for authors, far better ones than old-fashioned publishing houses, but that can change in a heart beat when they have reached the absolute market leader position. If you look at >>> my book sales page <<< here on this blog, you'll see that I only list my Amazon sales. Why? Because the other distributors (Kobo, Smashwords etc) sell so few books for me that it is not worth to list them there!
Yes, I am happy that Amazon sells my books, but I am also wary that Amazon could change their TOS in a heart beat, cutting, for example, my royalty share. The more powerful Amazon gets, the more likely this becomes. And, by definition, indie authors are very independently minded, that is why most of us have decided to go down the self-publishing route in the first place. But it also puts us in a bad position to negotiate with giants like Amazon should they decide to change their TOS to our disadvantage. To counteract that, indie authors would to have to act as an organized body. Herding feral cats would be easier than that!
What will happen after the acquisition?
Looking at Shelfari, an earlier Amazon purchase, initially not much. Some cosmetic changes like the adding of “by Amazon.com / an Amazon Company” to the logo area will come first. Then, swiftly, will come the removal of other sellers from the “buy this book here” button list. Only Amazon and its subsidiaries will remain. Likely is also an overhaul of the coding and user interface of the website itself, most likely with the return of the Amazon Api that will add newly on Amazon published books automatically to the GoodReads catalogue.
Will there be a mutual / cross integration of reviews on the Amazon and GoodReads? Who knows, but the spammers that flock their fake review offers on sites like Fiverr have already their eyes on GoodReads also. Chances are good, or should that be bad?, that reviews on GoodReads will become more and more polluted by spammers …
As you can see, I am not really happy with this development. Amazon is becoming far too dominant in the publishing industry for my taste and will soon be able to dictate their conditions to authors that then have no other marketplace leftover.
Some other voices and opinions
I loved >>> this post <<< by the Washington Post, especially the following sentence: "And the sentence “[Beloved Niche Site] is delighted to join the [Amazon/Facebook/Etc] Family” always sounds vaguely like “Earth is delighted to join the All-Devouring Malignant Black Hole That Just Appeared In The Neighborhood Family.” Really sums it up for me.
“Tracey Writes” has a different, more positive opinion of the situation, you can read her take >>> here <<< where she writes about it more from an author's perspective.