Bookbanter Column: Goodreads and Amazon Living Together . . . Mass Hysteria!

On Thursday, March 28th, it was announced that Amazon is buying the popular social networking and book review site, Goodreads.  Founded in 2007, it now has more than 16 million members, and will logically serve as an advantageous addition to the growing Amazon juggernaut.

On the Goodreads blog, the CEO and co-founder Otis Chandler said the site “will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish.  We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site – the ability to track what you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors – and your reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads.  And it’s incredibly important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even stone tablets.”

Unsurprisingly, reactions from various types of people in the book industry were both visceral and volatile.  There was shock from many on Facebook and Twitter, and lots of vocal disappointment.

Many announced that they had instantly cancelled their Goodreads accounts, and I wonder now how many have since renounced their love of Goodreads and how much that 16 million-member number has dropped.

What is perhaps most hurtful about this merging is the Goodreads CEO said, “We could not think of a more perfect partner for Goodreads as we both share a love of books and appreciation for the authors who write them.”  Chandler makes it sound like Goodreads had many different groups coming to them with hopes of working together.  Amazon may be a place where one can buy books and see what people think and have to say about them, but “love of books” and “appreciation for the authors who write them.”

Yeah, that’s not what I think of when I think of Amazon.

On his blog, Jarek Steele of Left Bank Books had this to say: “Really Goodreads?  You’ve forsaken all the other opportunities to partner with independent bookstores, Kobo, even Barnes & Noble and the Nook?  How about iPad?  Also, who at Amazon has a love of books and authors?”

I’ve been an avid book reviewer for over a decade now, and have my reviews up on a number of sites online: my website, The Sacramento Book Review, and Amazon.  In November of 2007 I learned about this new site and community called Goodreads.  I now have 683 book reviews up on Goodreads, have rated 992 books, and have 2,759 friends.  I have also listed my self-published books on there and received reviews, as well as interacting with the readers.

About every three months or so, I will spend time uploading all my new reviews to Goodreads and Amazon.  Over the years I have been doing this, I continue to receive comments from readers on the review, whether they liked the book, as well as other thoughts and discussions.  What is interesting about this is that while I have not conducted a physical survey to prove it, I have discovered a couple of interesting things about posting my reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

  • Goodreads seems to have more commenters on book reviews, giving thoughts and ideas about both the book and review; there is more interaction and discussion involved.  As compared to Amazon where comments are rare and terse.
  • Goodreads comments tend to be polite and complimentary, while Amazon comments are invariably angry, spiteful, and mean spirited.  I would estimate that this is true for over 95% of my reviews.  I can think of hundreds of positive and interesting comments I have received on Goodreads, with only a few negative ones.  While on Amazon, I have received a number of acceptable and appreciative comments, but far more negative, reactionary comments that seem either unfounded or unnecessary.  It’s a review of a book; it’s one person’s opinion.  And yet apparently this really gets to the types of people who hang around and troll on Amazon.

I am certainly not happy about this news of Amazon acquiring Goodreads, but I also don’t know what it will mean in the future for Goodreads.  Will it become one entity with Amazon and just one place for reviews?  If so, what does that mean about the thoughtful commenting and engaging discussion I’m used to with Goodreads?  Will this die away, or will it fight against those other types of commenters on Amazon?  Or will there be some strange, peaceful coexistence?

It’s just one of those things that only time will tell.  The good thing about the Internet and those 16 or so million members of Goodreads is that if Amazon does something really stupid to change or mess up Goodreads, you know us 16 million strong are going to be on the offensive against Amazon, and that’s a lot of pissed off vocal people.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

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