November 28, 2014

Welcome to the Mothership: Travis Jonker’s Take on Amazon/Goodreads

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When word came out that Amazon was pulling social network Goodreads into its acquisitional tractor beam, reaction seemed to fall into one of two categories—either Big Brother Bezos (as in Amazon CEO Jeff) has again sprouted horns and can’t wait to get his hands on your user data, or chill pal “Jeff B.” is throwing on his Ray-Bans, giving one of those L.L. Cool J kiss-two-fingers-then-make-a-peace-signs and is going to improve your reading life.

I’m somewhere in between.

While Goodreads runs ads, it isn’t directly selling the things it advertises. I like that. Amazon is definitely selling things, so there’s reason the acquisition is giving some pause and driving others to seek alternatives.

Additional uncertainty stems from the status of user reviews. Some are concerned that reviews they’ve written on Goodreads will end up on Amazon—a place they didn’t intend. I post reviews on both sites, so this possibility doesn’t bother me a whole lot—but might strike some as a mild form of theft.

A large motivation behind the deal is the prospect of bringing the Goodreads experience to the Kindle. I can foresee the Kindle talking to a user’s Goodreads account, updating the to-read shelf when a new book is purchased or borrowed, and marking it as read when finished. A couple quick taps would allow you see what friends are reading and recommending. As owner of both a Kindle and a Goodreads account, it will be interesting to see how they merge the two.

Libraries that lend Kindles will probably want to keep an eye out and stay on top of any new Goodreads integrations. It seems likely that other ereaders will follow suit, adding more social features.

For those interested in making a switch, there are other options. Unfortunately two of the most appealing are either completely (Shelfari) or partially (LibraryThing) owned by Amazon. It seems silly to jump ship to either of these.

One alternative is Riffle, which is more of a Facebook app than stand-alone website. But I feel like I’m bugging my Facebook friends when I fill their newsfeeds with the books I’m reading (granted, options allow you to share as much or as little as you’d like). After using the service, I realized I like keeping my reading social network separate. Riffle’s Pinterest-y interface has a nice look, but its features feel lightweight in comparison to Goodreads. It would make a good choice for a more casual reader.

Bookish is another option, with author and title information, original articles, and virtual shelves to keep track of reading. It’s much more of a recommendation engine than database. Enter books you’ve read and receive suggestions. The database is growing, but I found mixed results. It also has direct ties to publishers, which might make users seeking a bias-free zone a bit hesitant. It looks slick and functions smoothly though.

Booklikes is an interesting entry into the Goodreads alternative race. This site treats book reviews like blog posts. Sign up for the service and you get a blog to post about your reading in addition to star ratings, shelves, searching, and other familiar features.

Other options aren’t too promising: either confusing or in various states of abandonment. It quickly makes one realize that Goodreads is the best at what they do.

Getting down to basics with the Amazon/Goodreads deal, we have a company that sells books looking for a way to sell more books by improving how readers find new books. Goodreads, with its quickly-growing network of readers (myself included), was an attractive addition. Early signs indicate Goodreads won’t see a total change of mission, so I’m not clicking the “delete account” button yet. But, as with many other Goodreads users, it might not take much.

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Travis Jonker About Travis Jonker

Elementary school librarian Travis Jonker (scopenotes@gmail.com) works for Wayland (MI) Union Schools and blogs at “100 Scope Notes.”

Comments

  1. IMHO, any action or position that collaborates with Amazon serves to undermine the literary industry as a whole. Once Amazon can dictate what is and is not published (if it’s not already — though one suspects it is) how will you share literary taste with others? Well, you’ll be able to share it with the CIA, which is asking Amazon to develop analytic software for them.

  2. I fall in that middle camp, like you, Travis. There is a lot to love about Goodreads. I started with LibraryThing for the same reason you talk about with Goodreads: a community to share your reviews that didn’t necessarily end up on a bookseller site. Right now, I am maintaining my library on Goodreads and LibraryThing, mostly to have a backup in case I do need to hit that “delete” button for a platform. Once you start investing in cataloging your books and reading habits, it is hard to let go. It is sad, though, that the “big 3″ would all be absorbed by Amazon, though.

  3. Sara Ralph says:

    Awesome, free services like GoodReads are hard to create and then maintain; therefore, the acquisition makes since to me. I’d rather GoodReads be bought my Amazon than disappear entirely. I do shudder at Amazon being characterized as Satan, while independent booksellers are characterized as downtrodden victims and you are a good person if you shop at the latter. While I’d love to support independent bookstores, there are none close enough to me that feature books I want to buy, largely children’s books. The personal customer service, along with the opportunity to browse books and attend events probably would make shopping at an independent bookstore worth paying a few extra dollars per book. I know I can order books from independent bookstores online, in which case I would have to pay that higher price and shipping, with none of the benefits other than holding on to a principle that I am turning away from the big, evil corporation and supporting the small businessman. I do not know about you, but paying more based solely on principle is a luxury I can’t afford. Therefore, I’ll be sticking with Amazon, all the while realizing that they are indeed a business and what is the goal of a business? Making money.

  4. While it’s true that Amazon acquired a minority stake in LibraryThing when it bought out ABEbooks, Amazon does not have any access to LibraryThing data, nor does it have input into how LibraryThing is developed. LibraryThing’s founder (and the owner of the majority stake in the company) states that he has no intention of flipping the company to Amazon or anyone else. I feel pretty secure there, for what it’s worth.

  5. I am NOT happy about Amazon acquiring Goodreads. It’s not that I consider Amazon the “Evil Empire”–well, not entirely–but that I like having my social reading site separate from publishers and/or sellers. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t used Bookish. But after looking at other options, I came to the same conclusion, that Goodreads is the best social reading site for keeping track of my reading. I like Library Thing, and use it to catalog the books I own, but since I read a lot more books than I own, I haven’t found it to be as useful as Goodreads for my reading. So, for the time being I’m staying with Goodreads, but watching very closely to see what role Amazon ends up playing.

  6. Whichever view you take, it’s impossible to believe that Amazon won’t do anything to Goodreads. Amazon must be likely to either kill Shelfari or Goodreads at some future point, likely by creating an all-new beast in a few months to replace both, once they’ve extracted all of the usable data (“Introducing AmazonReads”!).
    The “good folks” at Amazon may indeed love books, but I’m willing to bet that they love the idea of “no competition in internet book sales” even more, and this move proves that competition is getting hammered.

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