March 29th, 2013 / 2:44 pm
Behind the Scenes & Technology

Speculations about Goodreads & Amazon (instead of eating lunch)

I was going to go get Subway for lunch today, but then I started thinking about what was more important: eating or social media? I decided eating, but then I remembered that I used to be a social media consultant, so whatever, here’s some thoughts on this Goodreads/Amazon thing that a lot of people (thirty-five, maybe) are really worked up about:

  1. Amazon isn’t Google, which does a really fantastic job of buying the cutest startups at the pound and then leaving said startups on the side of the road after they get old and ugly and start pissing on the carpet. Jeff Bezos invests and improves his acquisitions–just look at how Audible integrated with Kindle so that users can switch back and forth between listening and reading. Nothing is going to happen overnight, but expect some serious changes in your Goodreads user experience.
  2. Mashable ran the headlineAmazon Buys Goodreads to Make Reading Experience More Social.” This sounds utterly terrifying, because the last thing I want to do when I’m reading is socialize. But I guess it also sounds gorgeous, because it might create some dystopian world where we  see status updates like “Fat Jim checked into His Bathtub, Bitch! (with Georges Bataille and A Diet Coke).” 
  3. All jokes aside, I’m actually trying to be excited about Kindle Integration: if my purchases are automatically added to my GR shelf, if my reading progress is automatically updated on my profile (important to me because I usually read 3-4 books at a time), and if there’s a “Friends are Currently Reading” feature, I could see myself using Goodreads more often and more dynamically. In theory.
  4. Another obvious thing: Amazon would not make this purchase if they didn’t think they could somehow monetize the “social” aspect of Goodreads. The concept of “organic” social marketing in a ruse, but Twitter has done a pretty decent job of 1) putting relevant content in front of the right users; and 2) making it easy for users to ignore/hide/flame the content they aren’t interested in. This is just a guess, but I doubt Amazon is going to be thoughtful in this regard: if they do experiment with social ads, I fully expect them to be as awful as Facebook’s promoted posts.
  5. I read a article on Forbes that claimed this move cements Amazon as the “No. 1 recommendation game in town,” but are we really using Goodreads to discover new books? The people I’m friends with on there use it as a catalog, not as a resource for recommendations. Richard Thomas kicks ass, but it seems to me that the majority of people writing book reviews on Goodreads are the same schmucks that write soda reviews on Amazon, except on Goodreads those schmucks will sometimes argue about Chuck Klosterman like they’re in a freshman comp class. Maybe new features will change this, but I doubt it.
  6. Again, LOL at most Goodreads reviews. I cannot stress this enough.
  7. But really, all of the above romanticizing about social is just nonsense, because anyone who thinks this isn’t about eBooks is kidding themselves. I had no idea why this acquisition even happened, and then I read that Goodreads was thinking about getting into the selling game. Amazon sniffed a competitor (DATA! DATA!) and then it drank its blood.
  8. I can’t figure out what any of these means for indie publishers, but this whole thing makes Goodreads feel a lot less bootstrappy and a lot more corporate. This is all hypothetical (and based on what Adam said about “Big Ticket Items”), but if Goodreads made it easier for authors/publishers to sell their eBooks (and promise them a wider profit margin), there was an off chance that it could have turned into the Pitchfork of Indie Lit. Or something. OK, probably not. But still.

So yeah, do you care? Tell me if you care.

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  1. Mark Folse

      I care because I do rely on Goodreads. I don’t have time to spend in coffee shops and bars talking about books. I’m 55 years old, underemployed and over extended, trying to read, write and keep in the literary listings in my city after the local newspaper killed its book page and became a three-times-a-week affair. Hell, I don’t even have as much time as I used to to visit here or Book Slut or The Millions or The Rumpus, etc. People I know whose taste I appreciate pop up reading books I’ve never heard of and which I might never learn about. It is probably the most useful social media site I use.

  2. Mark Cugini

      Cool, thanks for sharing, Mark. I’m mostly talking about my own experiences here, and Goodreads is always a low priority for me. But I can totally see how it’d be different for others.

      Are you at all concerned about this acquisition?

  3. A D Jameson

      I didn’t know about this. Thanks, Mark.

      I’m a very fitful Goodreads participant.

  4. Mark Cugini

      Me, too. I use it to bookmark books if I’m at a bar and someone makes a recommendation. That’s about the extent for me.

      I’m sure I could use it more frequently, but I feel like I get my rec’s from other places.

  5. Mark Folse

      As a start-up small publisher, I hate Amazon. For me to sell a book there I lose about $0.25 a copy. (Look up A Howling in the Wires, and read the note I left there). Amazon reviews are a swamp where as review written by people I again know and trust can be valuable. And I tend to write reviews on Goodreads, but never on Amazon. All social media review sites whether its Amazon or Yelp are polluted by the friends of and the driveling idiots. I think Goodreads stands a bit (at least) above that, and to see it merged somehow into Amazon reviews would be disastrous, as would any further multi-media intrusion into my Kindle. I already have the model with ads, because that’s what came with my credit card points. I keep other’s highlights turned off. On the other hand, if I could see highlights by my Goodreads friends (a much smaller world of people than FB or Google+ or Twitter), that might actually be a plus. I would want to know these few dozen people highlighted something, or be able to read their notes. That would be an amazingly good thing, so it is the last thing i expect to come of it.

  6. A D Jameson

      I do that, too, but then I forget to look at what I’ve bookmarked. I have better luck with a list that I keep in a notebook I carry with me. I’m very “paper and pencil.”

  7. Mark Cugini

      Thanks for Sharing, Mark. I don’t think any small publisher will ever have something nice to say about Amazon Advantage.

      It does sound like they’re going to let Goodreads exist as their own separate entity, (similar to the way Zappos and IMDB have operated since being purchased by Amazon). If this is true–and I’m using IMDB’s commenting system as a model here–then there’s a good chance that the reviews will remain separate.

      Of course, this is just more speculation on my part. But I am very interested in seeing if Goodreads changes its IA (which I’m not nuts about).

  8. Mark Cugini

      OG Jameson.

  9. A D Jameson

      Here in Chicago, people seem to reserve the “OG” honorific for city natives, and I’m not one.

      OPP Jameson?

  10. A D Jameson

      The IMDb comparison is interesting.

      One thing, though: I’ve noticed that the IMDb app on my phone (an Android) doesn’t seem to access the full database, because when I’ve used it to search on more obscure films, it’s not found them. And those films are recorded in the web IMDb. This greatly concerned me but I can’t state what happened definitively; I just stopped using the app.

      Has anyone else had this experience? And is Goodreads the same on mobile devices as it is at the site itself?

  11. jeremy

      I’ve been an avid goodreads user for a few years, and I’m not that surprised that amazon finally sunk their claws into it. I have no idea what the future of goodreads will be, but I hope they at least clean the interface up a bit. It could be a bit smoother.

  12. C. Ford

      I care, a lot – Goodreads is my primary social site, I’m in it daily. I don’t do FB, I don’t do ebooks, and I’m primarily a library reader, so I don’t appreciate the site losing it’s independence and becoming even more commercial, especially with an organization with such a track record of bad customer service decisions and poor treatment of authors (Remember them yanking purchased books from Kindle accounts? and pulling established author’s books from the site as a strong-arm tactic while negotiating terms with their publisher?). Also, if they hook the database up to the Amazon feed again, all of the crap data from their secondary, used-market sellers gets dumped in again, messing with the search results. The only people going to gain from this merger are Kindle users, I’m sure to the detriment of other e-readers.

  13. Mark Cugini

      Sure, Alex, let’s talk.

      I think you’re completely right about Amazon aiming to control the reading experience–especially the digital/eBook reading experience. What’s most discerning about this purchase (to me, at least) is that Amazon just acquired data on 20 million new users/customers. Obviously, anyone who clicks “agree” on a social media site’s T&S has to know that they’re signing away their privacy, but this is going to give Amazon Execs some insight on the ways their customers are using, talking about, and cataloging their product. If Amazon could come take a look at everyone in America’s bookcase, they would. And this purchase just gave them that right.

      The main reason why I avoided bringing that up, though, is because Amazon has been trying to monopolize ALL online consumerism for years now, and–considering sales were up 27.1% in 2012–it seems as if the general public doesn’t give a shit.

      Would you mind elaborating on these incisive and revolutionary writers you mentioned? I believe you’re talking about how Amazon tends to promote a narrow view of the larger literary landscape, but just wondering if I’ve got that wrong.

  14. Mark Cugini

      Couldn’t agree more–the main reason I don’t use Goodreads is because the interface and site structure are pretty clunky.

      I’m almost sure the site get a face lift. The thing isn’t even responsive.

  15. Mark Cugini

      Not sure about IMDb. is not responsive, but they do have a mobile app. Like its 2010 or something.