Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Acquired Goodreads

In case you missed it yesterday, Amazon acquired Goodreads, the popular book social networking site with over 16 million users (disclosure: link is to CNET, I work there. All opinions expressed here are my own).

When the news broke, quite a few people on Twitter remarked at how much it made sense. And it does: The number one e-bookseller just acquired the number one book social networking site.

But what does this mean for the future?

Amazon acquisitions seem to fall into two broad categories. There are some companies that Amazon buys but then pretty much leaves as-is (IMDB, Shelfari), and there are others that they then integrate closely into their main platform (CreateSpace, Zappos). Which type will Goodreads be?

At first glance, an Amazon/Goodreads partnership opens up some exciting possibilities. Amazon could draw upon your relationships on Goodreads to surface your friend's notes, reviews and progress within an e-book. You could update Goodreads and leave reviews from directly within the Kindle and Kindle apps. Goodreads hinted at this in their announcement about the acquisition.

For the first time ever, books could be truly social.

Amazon could also surface Goodreads reviews on Amazon and add to one of their key value points, and fulfill e-books directly from Goodreads.

But I think the most important element for Amazon was simply to stave off a potential competitor by buying it. Goodreads has the size and critical mass of users to be a viable e-book vendor of its own, one that perhaps could have taken a chunk of Amazon's share. By simply acquiring it and leaving it as is, Amazon has already enhanced its competitive position.

In its announcement and in a subsequent interview, Goodreads pledged to stay an independent entity and for now even retain buy links to other vendors. For readers and users of Goodreads, I can't imagine that Amazon will destroy a still-growing site with such a passionate fan base.

And for publishers... well, it comes on the heels of Bookish going live, and clearly the social element of book reading is still a nut they're waiting to crack.

One thing's for certain: Amazon just got stronger.

What do you make of this acquisition?


Murphy Jacobs said...

Very not happy about it. The notices posted on GR are full of "we don't plan" and "We will try" and "We'll see" on issues of site independence, users' ability to freely write reviews, and users' control over the content they create. Users are also concerned about the Kindle domination implicit in the notices. Some few have jumped ship already. Others are waiting to see.

And many just do not want to be associated with Amazon for various reasons.

I'm reasonably sure that inertia will win in the end, but Librarything is discussing how this Amazon purchase of GR will be to their advantage.

Rachel Bateman said...

I doubt those other retailer links will stay up for long. Why would Amazon, on a site they own, link to a direct competitor?

As an example, look to IMDB. All links on the site lead back to the mother ship, and users have reported that any forum comments left with links to anywhere other than Amazon are deleted. How long before this is the case on Goodreads as well?

For many, the biggest draw about Goodreads was its neutrality. That is gone now.

Crystal said...

Um. Does this remind anyone else of Germany gobbling up all those countries pre-WWII? No? Just me? Ok.

A competitive market is good for the consumer because it keeps prices down.

The end. That's all I have to say.

Jaimie said...

Well I guess I'll be the first commenter to really like this. Has anyone tried calling into Amazon's customer service? It's the best I've ever experienced, time and time again.

So go ahead, Amazon, rule the world.

And to those who may say, "What if it turns evil?" Well, let's look at the publishing industry. <-- not a fair comparison, but COME ON.

TS Tate said...

How does the impact GoodReads authors? Will our author pages there be linked to our Amazon author pages and if IMDB (owned by Amazon) disallows link, will GR now also disallow links as well? What about authors that want to link to indie sellers? I'm very skeptical.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

I think, like most things, this acquisition will have good and bad aspects. As a self-published author, I would love it if reader reviews cross-posted automatically between GoodReads and Amazon. Some reviewers manually post both places, but most don’t.

As a reader and ebook evangelist (I’m on my 5th Kindle), I would love it if Amazon used this acquisition as a way to provide real ebook library management for Kindle users, where I could create my collections on the web and have the books I download automatically get all relevant collections/labels applied to them when I sync. Right now it’s Kindle-specific, which is a royal pain!

At least I can hope that’s what will happen. But I can see where publishers would feel threatened by Amazon's ownership of a formerly independent site. Also, Nook, Sony, and Kobo owners would see no benefit at all.

But I'll bet if Steve Jobs were still alive, he would probably say this development didn't matter to Apple, because no one reads anymore. This would have been our clue that it did matter.

Kris Underwood said...

Initially, I don't like it. But, it could be a good thing. I think Amazon is going to take over the entire internet, if it hasn't already.

Matthew MacNish said...

I find it really interesting that you're so optimistic about it. The overarching sentiment I have seen from friends in the publishing industry is definitely negative.

Personally, I don't use Goodreads much. It can be a dangerous place for authors.

Nathan Bransford said...


The overwhelming sentiment I sense within the traditional publishing industry is fear of Amazon. I feel like it's overblown and has led people to make some bad decisions (agency model, for one big example). I think people are viewing this solely through that lens without real concrete ideas about how this is going to end up being the end of the world.

And yeah, woe betide an author who spends any time at all looking at their Goodreads reviews.

Spike said...

I am feeling positive about it. As an author, I beleive it ties the discovery site, with the market. As long as they make wise decisions and not become a sales site. This will be a positive merger.

birdinabowler said...

I'm just not sure. It's too soon to say.
I was just getting to like goodreads and was feeling safe there because of what it is. I have no idea how it's going to change now, or if at all.

My gut feeling tells me this is not in my favor as a reader or an author. Let's hope time proves my gut wrong.

Daisy Harris said...

My first reaction to this news was "Of course they did."

Why wouldn't Amazon buy the largest book-related social networking site? They're buying everything else.

While I think Zappos worked better before Amazon bought it, I really don't mind Amazon purchasing Goodreads. I buy all my books through Amazon. I always have bought my books through Amazon.

From a consumer standpoint, Amazon is awesome. They have by far the best platform for selling books. What they didn't have was the best platform for reviewing books.

Now they do.

(Of course, I live in Seattle. So Amazon doing well is somewhat in my best interest. :)

Nancy Kelley said...

The internet is slowly shifting to a place where half the sites are owned by Amazon and the other half are owned by Google. From a free market perspective, it bothers me to see the diversity of cyberspace disappearing.

Of course, from a consumer perspective, it makes life much easier. I love that Amazon owns Audible, so my ebooks whispersync with my audio books. I love the single sign-on, rather than a bazillion user IDs. I love Amazon's spectacular customer service.

But underneath it all, we have to remember that Amazon is a business and will do things that make the most business sense for them. Is it good business sense for them to leave links to non-Amazon sites up on a service it owns? Not really. I can't imagine that will stay forever, and when it disappears, one important feature of Goodreads will as well.

John Stanton said...

We are Amazon

We have analyzed your marketing strategy and position and found them to be irrelevant

Your technological and biological distinctiveness will be added to our own.

You will be assimilated
Resistance is futile

Betty said...

Amazon is taking over the book world one bit at a time. At least we'll know where to find things easily.

Richard Sutton said...

Amazon may have been simply staving off competitors, but I think they decided that a river of user/reader comments about reading genre, trends, and demographics was just too tempting to resist. GR offers more un-massaged data on the actual habits and opinions of the widest range of readers that can be found today online. It has remained unaligned, so its user base exercises more freedom in their comments than can be found on Amazon's own site, and certainly a better data feed than all the focus groups and marketing wonks they can buy individually. I think this will be the watershed moment that will redefine discoverability, especially for authors with no budget for publicists and small presses with quality writers work that just doesn't get the media positioning. I'm optimistic because I remember when Jeff Bezos was still cajoling his investors that profitability was "just around the corner." They are the biggest because they have taken care of their customers better than anyone else.

MSgtDaleDay said...

I posted an article about this in the forum by David Gaughran. Very well-thought out and informative.

Chris Bailey said...

Amazon. Can't imagine a better corporate name.

Anne R. Allen said...

I'm not doing a happy dance like David Gaughran, because I think monopolies never work in the customer's favor in the long run.

On the other hand, having some Zon savvy to fix up the clunky interface on GR--and maybe stop people from giving stars to books they haven't read and don't review--even before they've come out? That would be a major plus.

Gjillian said...

I'm trying to imagine this one or two years down the road, when Amazon does to publishing what Apple did to the music industry.

I don't think this is a good thing for traditional publishers, sellers or libraries. And once Amazon owns it all...they will make it difficult for ebook publishers to compete...then they will raise all their distribution rates for indies...pretty soon...they will be the only publisher in the world....and then....they will dictate what gets published and what doesn't and if we have a Republican supreme court...

I'm getting really paranoid and hysterical, I have to sign off now.

Anonymous said...

This goes even deeper than most people realize. The system at Amazon and GR is far from flawless. I hesitate to go deeper now, but I will say that word is getting around faster now and people are staying away from both sites as much as they can. What began as an excellent concept has turned into an example of how a lawless society does not work, and, how people cannot be trusted with the honor system. And these huge cyber companies are not required to abide by the same rules as physical businesses. Try writing an anonymous letter to the editor of a newspaper without giving valid, honest contact info where you can be reached. It wouldn't get published. Yet anyone can set up infinite sock puppet accounts on Amazon and GR without question.

Anonymous said...

"Goodreads pledged to stay an independent entity"

Goodreads doesn't have the say so in this anymore. And they have gone way beyond the appearance of conflict of interest. They are the definition of it.

I'm only one person, but Goodreads has lost me as a user. F... Amazon.

I mean, I get it, but I won't a be a part of it.

lilywhite said...

@Crystal - Yeah. It's just you. I've been talking about this with friends for a couple of days, and not a single one of them has compared Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads to the Nazis. Good work, though, invoking Godwin's Law in what might be the most astonishing and hilarious context ever.

@ Gjillian - What Apple did to the music industry? You mean how I can buy any song I want for $1.00, efficiently and conveniently from within the software that I use to organize and play my music? You mean how they made it so I will never again buy a $16.99 CD and find that every song but that one I wanted sucks? The way they pushed until the music industry gave up on DRM?

The fact is, Apple saved the music industry, because even if you don't remember Napster et al, I do. I never pirate music anymore, and it's PRECISELY because Apple fixed things so I don't have any reason to. Book lovers can only hope Amazon would bring the same kind of shakeup to traditional publishing. ... Oh, wait. They already have.

This "Amazon is taking over the world and also oh no the sky is falling" stuff is old.

Martin Bodenham said...

Depending on the acquisition price, this deal seems to make a lot of sense for Amazon. The trick will be to merge the best aspects of Goodreads into the Amazon platform without ruining the experience for the reader.

Kyla said...

It seems to me that this is one of those things where, in a perfect world, it would be just awesome. But, seeing as we don't live in a perfect world, it's probably going to suck.

What I mean by that rather vague comment is that Amazon could use Goodreads to spread their name, but still keep it the neutral party it's always been. They could integrate it in all the really cool ways you just said, but let it's freshness and individuality stay as is.

That would be a perfect world scenario.

Real world scenario would be more like what the other commenters said about the IMDB example and other such acquisitions. More than likely, they won't just make Amazon look a little better than the other options; they'll just remove the other options altogether. It reminds me of the stereotypical little kid who cheated to get the other kids in a contest disqualified just so he would default.

It's sad, but that's probably what will happen. But I have my fingers crossed for something better!

Gjillian said...

lilywhite: Gee, thanks for not pirating music anymore, but there is still a ton of music theft going on, as well as ebooks.

By the way, do you think Amazon should allow returns of ebooks that have been read? And where is this going, exactly? I think it's leading to book rental subscriptions.

K. C. Blake said...

When I heard the news, part of me was happy while the other part freaked out. We all know how Amazon feels about competition. They put together that library program and told writers they couldn't publish anywhere else if they wanted to join it. So what if they use Goodreads in the same way? Amazon is starting to remind me of Wal-marts the way they are gobbling up other businesses. But then again maybe it will be a good thing. We'll have to wait and see.

Lita said...

I don't typically go to goodreads, so i don't have much invested one way or the other (except for a general distrust when bigger companies start buying smaller companies), however, while wasting a few minutes at work reading up on Karen Russell's _Swamplandia!_, I came across this on the book's goodreads' page: "Review removed due to Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads."

That was quick! So much for keeping it independent...

Third review down.

Is there a legit reason why Amazon is removing reviews? I'm honestly asking.

lita said...

Nevermind! The user deleted her own comments. Conspiracy avoided.

Christine said...

I'm for it. I was wary when they bought audible, since I'm a big audiobook fan and was worried that they would mess with it, or start creating issues with the various apple players, but they haven't. If they've changed anything, it's that audible gets a lot more publicity than it used to.
So as long as they keep the links to other sites live and working, so that I can see reviews from my friends in the Nook and paper camps, I think this could be great, especially if it starts making the recommendations from Amazon actually useful for me. I usually put my reviews on GR even though I'm reading on my kindle or listening on my iphone, but if I could review on the website I like, right from my kindle? Win.

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