Amazon’s Purchase Of Goodreads Could Be Good

The doom-mongers have been running wild on Twitter with the news that Amazon is to acquire Goodreads. Much of that nonsense is typical (i.e. hysterical) Amazon bashing, or reflexive defense of the status quo.

This post is from 29 March 2013. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links but comments remain open. For something fresher, head to the blog homepage.

I’m not going to deal with the Chicken Little stuff. I have less and less patience with people who claim that Amazon has or is striving for some kind of evil monopoly that will subjugate authors and readers when all the evidence to date is that they will treat authors better than any publisher and provide readers with cheaper books, a bigger selection, and a better customer experience than any other retailer.

There are some more reasonable fears about what this purchase entails. I would like to deal with these in turn, then discuss how I think this acquisition will be beneficial to writers – particularly self-publishers. I respect the fact that this is a hot-button issue for many, and that reasonable people will disagree with my perspective.

I welcome any (respectful) discussion on these points, and I’m open to being convinced by the opposing side.

As I see it, some of the more reasonable fears about this purchase include:

1. Amazon will change Goodreads from being an independent home for readers to discuss the books they love

I can understand this fear – particularly if you are a Goodreads user, and spend a lot of time in the site. It’s not unreasonable to be worried about what happens next with a site that you love. I also understand the feeling of ownership that (rightly) develops in a community like Goodreads – especially one that has literally built the site into what it is today.

No-one has a crystal ball here, but all the indications are that Goodreads will retain its independence. That point was stressed in a blog post from Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler. He said that Amazon has pledged to support Goodreads in “continuing to grow our vision as an independent entity, under the Goodreads brand and with our unique culture.”

Chandler went on to say this:

It’s important to be clear that Goodreads and the awesome team behind it are not going away. Goodreads 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.

You might argue that’s typical merger/acquisition PR spin, but until there’s any evidence to the contrary, I think we have to take Otis Chandler at his word. After all, Goodreads would be nothing without its fantastic community of readers. Why would they mess with the very thing that makes Goodreads what it is?

If you are more worried about Amazon’s intentions, here’s Amazon VP Russ Grandinetti in a revealing interview with PaidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen:

Our mentality here is to first do no harm, and make sure that if we’re going to do integrations, users genuinely find it to be a big benefit.

Again, you might say talk is cheap, that actions speak louder than words. Well, let’s look at Amazon’s actions.

Amazon purchased a 40% stake in LibraryThing seven years ago. It bought Shelfari outright five years ago. It bought fifteen years ago. The independence and brand of those communities has not been compromised in all that time.

Again, nobody can see into the future, but we have the words (and deeds) of the main players here to guide us.

In Otis Chandler’s blog post on the purchase, he stressed that:

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.

There’s no prevarication or doublespeak there. It seems pretty clear to me that links to other retailers will remain. Again, if this is a promise they break, the community would be outraged, and Goodreads is nothing without its community.

Some worry that links to other retailers won’t have the same prominence as before, that Amazon’s links will now be front-and-center. Honestly, Amazon’s links should be front-and-center. They are the biggest retailer of books in the world, with the highest-rated customer service, and manufacturers of the most popular e-reading device.

Not having Amazon links in a prominent position (which is how things have been for the last year after the Goodreads/Amazon data dispute) does a disservice to the majority of Goodreads users who are Amazon customers and/or Kindle owners.

3. Amazon will force the integration of Amazon and Goodreads reviews

I can understand why Goodreads reviewers would be worried about this. They put a lot of time and effort into their reviews, and may not want them appearing on the Amazon site (for whatever reason).

But I don’t think that’s going to happen. All the indications are that automatic cross-posting of Goodreads reviews to Amazon will be a (potential) option – not something that something that is going to be forced on anybody.

From a practical standpoint, forced integration wouldn’t really work anyway. There’s a very different review culture on Amazon and Goodreads. The latter’s reviewers are famously tougher – which is partly explained by the guidance both sites hand out to reviewers (3 stars on Amazon tends to mean “so-so” or “mediocre” whereas on Goodreads it usually means “I liked it but it didn’t blow me away.”)

Again, it comes down to what’s best for the community. As Otis Chandler said:

We’re going to think about this in terms of what’s best for our members. Maybe if we find books that don’t have any Goodreads reviews we might consider that, but I don’t think there’s any specific plans to do that at this time.

4. Goodreads will become a site exclusively for Kindle owners

The statements above are quite clear that this isn’t going to happen, and that Goodreads will remain a home for anyone who loves books – however they read them.

It’s also clear that Amazon and Goodreads will be working together to provide extra features for Kindle users. Owners of other devices may gripe about that, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. This purchase has enabled the new features not prevented them for other devices. Amazon can hardly be expected to provide the technical know-how on how to integrate features onto EPUB devices they haven’t designed or manufactured.

5. Amazon will force Goodreads to stop providing reviews to Kobo

To be frank, I expected Goodreads to stop providing reviews to Kobo at the first opportunity. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear that won’t be the case. Again, Otis Chandler couldn’t be clearer: “we’re not going to shut [the Kobo feed] off.”

I think that’s cool and a gesture of good faith. Some members of the community may place little stock in these words (and past deeds), but they should take some comfort in the fact that clear pledges have been made by Amazon and Goodreads about what happens going forward. If they break their word, the community will be able to hold their feet to the fire. Which leads on to the next question.

If all the above is true, why did Amazon buy Goodreads?

In a word: data. Goodreads has millions of users who have rated millions of books. That data alone makes this acquisition attractive to Amazon.

Amazon’s success is powered by a complex, data hungry recommendation engine. The more data Amazon can crunch, the more accurate those recommendations will be. And the more accurate those are, the more money Amazon makes.

Goodreads has also made big strides in improving its own book recommendation algorithms, and I’m sure Amazon is excited about looking under the hood, seeing how it all works, and applying that knowledge to their system.

If you have an issue with that, then you should pretty much stay away from Google, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo, and any other large internet site that routinely collects user data.

Amazon’s interest doesn’t end with data. Goodreads has been making steps towards monetizing its site more effectively. Often such moves are met with resistance by users, but its inevitable on any free site. Everyone has to come up with some way of keeping the lights on.

It’s also clear that Goodreads didn’t have the funding internally to make all the improvements it would have liked to serve its users better. This deal will allow them to do that.

I’m also sure that Amazon has a plan to help Goodreads monetize the site more effectively. It’s what they do. Again, if you have a problem with that, it would have been the same had anyone else purchased Goodreads (and it was inevitable that somebody would).

How does this acquisition help self-publishers?

I see three primary benefits:

1. More advertising opportunities on Goodreads, and a better return on investment. Goodreads already has an advertising program, but it’s hardly the best ROI in the business. Amazon has the experience and know-how to improve the program – and self-publishers are always looking for more (effective) places to advertise their books.

2. Amazon’s recommendation algorithms will be vastly improved with all the data that Goodreads has been collecting. Anything that makes Amazon a more trusted source for book recommendations levels the playing field for self-publishers – the vast majority of whom make 90% (or more) of their sales at Amazon, despite the Kindle only having around 60% of the market.

3. Amazon buy links will no longer be obscured at the bottom of a long list of other retailers (where self-publishers don’t sell as well).

4. Finally, all these new features that are being talked about will make the Kindle a more attractive device. Because Amazon provides self-publishers with a much more level playing field than the other retailers, this gives us a fairer chance of nabbing those readers.

These are my initial thoughts on the purchase. Of course, we’ll have to see how it will all play out. What do you think?

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

111 Replies to “Amazon’s Purchase Of Goodreads Could Be Good”

  1. I do in fact “pretty much stay away from Google, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo, and any other large internet site that routinely collects user data”. I made a Goodreads account just before the news of the takeover broke, and have used it hardly at all because I wasn’t sure whether Amazon would take ownership of all my stuff there. It’s hard enough to find a community that belongs to its members rather than being under corporate control, and confound it, I thought I’d found one!

  2. I think it will be a great thing for authors and readers alike. Book discussions and reviewing will continue unencumbered and Goodreaders will be hit with even better incentives to stay involved in the discussion and receive better tools to do so. It’s good all around as I lay out in my blog:

  3. “‘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.’

    There’s no prevarication or doublespeak there. It seems pretty clear to me that links to other retailers will remain.”

    I don’t particularly care what retail outfits Goodreads links to, but I don’t see how Chandler’s words (as quoted here) suggest Goodreads won’t narrow its links down to just Amazon. Amazon provides all the extant forms Chandler lists. He doesn’t say “mobi, epub, pdf,” etc. — just “digitally.” Amazon sells digital books, so Amazon can provide books to customers who read digitally, along with those who use paper or audio.

  4. Reblogged this on On Purpose Magazine and commented:
    Is it doom and gloom or bright days for authors and readers on Goodreads?
    Social media generally is not happy with the news that Amazon has acquired Goodreads.

    This article makes a case that the acquisition is a good thing. What do you think?

  5. I again enjoyed reading David’s analysis, plus all the comments. I can only say, I always learn a lot here. It also wakes me up to the fact I am supposedly on GR and should pay more attention to that site. Thanks David for the article and generating the comments…

  6. Uh, okay, and I know that we all seem to work for one (corporation, I mean) at one time or another, but when have big corporations been a good thing to the average person recently (ever?)? In a world of financial, intellectual, governmental, media, and privacy manipulation, the acquisition of an independent voice by one that is defined by returning a profit on the very product it seeks to comment on, while not necessarily a bad thing, is certainly not a good thing for society, particularly when that profit seeking entity is approaching a market monopoly.

    Oh, and for all you “the jury is out” types, see if you still think this was not a bad thing, in like, maybe, two years.

    1. It was inevitable that Goodreads would be bought by somebody. Would you feel any better if that somebody was Barnes & Noble, Penguin, Facebook or Microsoft? Servers cost money. Coders cost money. Goodreads has to pay the bills somehow.

      As I see it there are two ways to do that (aside from introducing a fee or subscription which would kill the site). One is to sell to someone else with the necessary funding, and the other is to monetize the site yourself. The unspoken social contract between corporations like these and their users is that they provide a service for free (whether that’s Google, Facebook, Goodreads or whoever), and you pay the price with data – chopped and spliced and served up to marketing companies via an advertising platform or as raw data to crunch for their own systems.

      You don’t have to like this model, but then you don’t have to use the products either. Plenty of people survive just fine without using Google, Facebook, or Goodreads. (I’m not saying we shouldn’t have concerns with how data is collected or used, particularly privacy concerns – but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.)

      Small independent start-ups with a smart idea who rapidly grow in popularity rarely stay independent (or small) for long. That’s the law of the jungle.

      I’m not even touching the monopoly stuff. It’s a waste of time talking about that issue. I can point the definition of a monopoly and show how Amazon isn’t one. I can explain how a retail monopoly is *impossible* without government legislation preventing new entrants to the marketplace. But it’s a waste of time. People just like using the word. And yeah, people have been saying that for more than two years. How is it going? Quite well.

      1. Let’s look at Barnes & Noble’s approach to free competition:

        1. B&N won’t stock Amazon published books even though Amazon will stock books published by Sterling (owned by B&N).
        2. B&N won’t stock the Kindle even though Amazon sell the Nook.
        3. B&N engaged in illegal sweetheart deals with publishers to put indie booksellers out of business (not Amazon).
        4. B&N fought to retain the price-fixing (and anti-competitive) agency arrangements, while Amazon fought against them.

        You would prefer those guys? The guys who can’t even run their own business. Okay.

  7. I’ve just finished reading Scott Turow’s rant on the Authors’ Guild blog and all the comments that followed. David, your assessment here is so much more reasonable. Turow calls this a “textbook example of how monopolies are built.” To my mind Amazon is making better corporate decisions in this changing world of publishing. Goodreads wasn’t forced to sell to Amazon. Certainly the combined Penguin/Random group had the resources to do it and perhaps they could have created a competing online bookseller by so doing. Now that would have been really frightening. Think about it.

    In 2011, Penguin reported revenues of $1.28 billion and operating profits of $142 million, yet their choice was to spend $114 million purchasing Author Solutions instead of buying Goodreads.

    Which corporate entity seems to be more author friendly?

  8. Thanks for an alternative view, which is well reasoned and positive. Time, of course, will determine the reality of Amazon’s influence.
    As for trolls on Goodreads, I’ve never had the problem. Most people on there are readers who care about books. I’d never a let a few morons put me off belonging to such a great community.

  9. David, I 100% agree with you, and recently blogged about this myself. I can’t wait to see the GoodReads/Kindle integration – it’s something that has been a long time coming.

    As for the Amazon monopoly – so what? They’re offering authors a platform from which they can succeed. It isn’t their job to slow down and wait for the competition to catch up — it’s the competition’s job to step up and catch up!

    Great post, as ever.

  10. I hope you’re right David. Personally, I’m not a kindle fan, and don’t like the idea of e-readers going away. That would give Amazon a unfair advantage and not be good for anyone. A monopoly on e-readers would not be good.

  11. Reblogged this on ckbooksblog and commented:
    I sure hope David is correct. I like Goodreads as an independent voice in the books world and a place for author and readers to connect. I also hate to see Amazon gobble up another book site. Bigger is not always better in my book, though I’m sure Goodreads made a pretty penny selling themselves off. It’s hard to begrudge them that. Time will tell, time will tell.

  12. Reblogged this on The Business Side of Books and commented:
    As soon as news broke on Amazon buying Goodreads, I started writing drafting a post about it isn’t a terrible thing. David Gaughran expressed my thoughts exactly, so I’m re-posting his post. If you don’t have time to read the entire thing and are freaking out about Amazon buying Goodreads–stop. Amazon is not going to mess with the model. Why would they? Goodreads is worthless without its followers.

  13. Reblogged this on with a side note: All indications so far show that Goodreads will continue as is. There might be some slight changes to make the user experience more streamlined. I agree with David Gaughran, the data alone would be valuable for Amazon, given the millions of users on Goodreads. Remember also, Amazon purchased a successful model here; it makes no sense to strip it down and rebuild it.

  14. Power corrupts etc.. Monopolies do have a poor history of abusing their power, which is why there are regulations in place to deal with them.

    I hope that your vision of the future relationship between Amazon and Goodreads comes to pass – it might – we will have to wait and see whether they abuse their power, or use it intelligently for the benefit of themselves, their readers and the many (independent) publishers.

  15. Hopefully Amazon will clean up the mess at Goodreads. As of now, the inmates run the asylum. Sniper attack one-star ratings abound. Lots of trolls with too much time on their hands and a general dislike for anything self-published. Popularity as an author is frowned upon, which is why ratings tend to go down as the reviews mount. And whatever you do, do not leave a comment on a review. Good or bad, it will be perceived by a vocal few as spam and you will get zinged for it. At the very least, eliminate the rating without review system and the sometimes outrageously obscene shelves. Good people, readers and authors, are paying the price for an undisciplined, arrogant few.

  16. Thank you for a comprehensive, reasoned view on this. I saw the announcement on GR and the number of people who went ‘omg this is terrible, I’m going to withdraw everything I have on GR’ baffled me a little. Like you say, both parties have outright said that GR will not fundamentally change, so let’s all just take a deep breath and – dare I suggest it? – wait and see. If they don’t keep their promise then the entire GR community can come down on them like two million tonnes of bricks. For myself, if this somehow improves the chances of my book being bought, then bring it on!

  17. Sorry I’m not seeing the upside here. Amazon also announced a substantial increase in fees to suppliers recently. That’s what they do – use their muscle to make more margin for themselves. Market dominance by a handful of giants is not good for competition and is not good for the suppliers to that market. It might benefit the consumer for a short while.

    As for the PR from both sides – well they would say that wouldn’t they? They are hardly likely to say that GR owners wanted an exit strategy which lined their pockets and Amazon’s offer was too good to refuse. And – Amazon stand to make even more of a return from targeted cross-sells and up-sells using Goodreads readers’ data and authors advertising.

    1. Hi Sean. That’s third-party Amazon Marketplace suppliers, right? I don’t know what’s going on with that tbh, but my gut reaction was that perhaps Amazon are starting to question the value of those middlemen – I know I’ve had some terrible experiences buying stuff off Amazon Marketplace peeps. It smacks a lot of the IPG kerfuffle a year ago – they also claimed that “predatory” Amazon was squeezing them out, but I don’t see why Amazon should be passing healthy margin onto a pointless middleman like them (seriously, why do you need a company like IPG to distribute your e-books to Amazon?).

  18. “After all, Goodreads would be nothing without its fantastic community of readers. Why would they mess with the very thing that makes Goodreads what it is?”

    This is called a “customer acquisition”. Amazon bought Goodreads for the customer data. It’s what companies similar to Amazon do these days.

    Putting aside David’s usual superlative-laden dismissal of Amazon critique, here’s the most likely, least dramatic outcome: Amazon will gradually insinuate itself into the Goodreads UI to sell books.

    So–yes, Goodreads *is* going to eventually stop being an independent book recommendation engine. Amazon doesn’t buy a company for its money: it buys it for its customers. If you think Amazon won’t try to aggressively sell you books via Goodreads, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    1. I’m picturing Bezos with a Goodreads user in a headlock “Click the button, dammit!”

      More seriously though, of course they will speed up the monetization of Goodreads – and do it a hell of a lot more effectively. The current advertising platform is pretty crappy. I’m guessing that the poor ROI me and others saw from advertising there is pretty widespread – meaning it’s not serving anyone right now – the advertisers seeking a return, Goodreads seeking revenue, and the readers obviously aren’t crazy about the ads if they aren’t clicking on them. I would hope that Amazon would vastly improve the targeting options so that much more relevant ads are served to users – I think everyone would benefit from that.

      I think the big red-line areas to watch to see where Amazon will take Goodreads are the ones I flagged above, particularly whether links to other stores will disappear (or be ghettoized somewhere). That hasn’t happened yet – the only change in the buy links so far was to move Amazon from the bottom of the list (where it resided since the API dust-up last year) to the top (where it should be, IMO).

      We’re all speculating though. Time will tell – and pretty quickly I would imagine. The purchase will close this quarter, and I’m sure everyone will be watching stuff like the buy links to see what happens.

  19. I mostly agree with you, David. I’m not too worried anything much will change. Not only because of Amazon’s track record but because it simply makes sense to let Goodreads alone and let the site work the way it has always worked. For the same reasons it makes sense for a manufacturer to market two different brands of soap or for an author to write in different genres under different pen names.

    I expect there will be some integration that will basically boil down to making it easier for readers to buy books. For indies this can only be beneficial.

    So, I’m not surprised by what happened but by what didn’t happen. Apple didn’t buy Goodreads. Let’s not forget that Apple has the customer base, the devices and the online shop, and is already selling books. Let’s also not forget that Apple dwarfs Amazon by a factor of six to one.

    The day the girls and boys in Cupertino decide that they want as big a chunk of literature as they have of music will be a very interesting one.

    1. You know what else didn’t happen? Penguin didn’t buy Goodreads. Instead they bought Author Solutions.

      But Amazon is the one who will start screwing authors any day now. Right? Let’s just skip quickly passed the 190,000 writers (and counting) that have been screwed by Author Solutions (40,000 new victims *since* Penguin’s purchase.)

  20. I agree it could be a good thing, but they need to clean up the mess over there too. First off, the ridiculous ability to rate a book without writing a review is the worse feature. There is no indication the individual even read the book, and I know from personal experience that there are stalkers that purposely hit indie authors in certain genres running rampant with hit-and-run one-star ratings right after release. I’ve emailed Goodread a few times on their suggestion box. If they want to keep the “rating” feature, then give authors the ability to post questions the rater must answer correctly regarding the content of the book before they can rate. If they get it right, great! Rate. If they don’t, block them. They do the same thing with friend requests, so it cannot be that hard to program the same for ratings. Get a software engineer!

    Another clean-up item that needs overhaul is what readers can name shelves. People make the worse shelves, including swear words and derogatory remarks against authors. Somehow I ended up on the badly behaving author shelf. How I got there, is beyond me. Perhaps I behaved badly because I’m an indie.

    It’s a den of vipers, and it needs overhauling. Enough said.

    1. I am one of those who leaves a rating without writing a review and I don’t see the deal of just doing so. I am not a person who can eloquently state my opinion in written words so I rarely give a written review of books I’ve read. And I think that’s the reason of the MAJORITY of the members who does like that. I don’t want just to write ‘Awesome book’ or ‘I enjoyed the book’ or even ‘I hate the book’ just for the sake of writing a review. I would want to write more substantial stuff than that but unfortunately I don’t really have the ability for that. And isn’t what the rating represents? Goodreads provides a guideline what those stars represents and I really take that guideline seriously. I give an HONEST RATING every single time though I really hate shelling out one star rating because even though I think the book is crappy, the author must have put some effort on it and I really feel bad that I rated his efforts poorly. But I gotta give my honest opinion and perhaps the author would learn from the low rating I gave.

      I don’t really like the tone of your post because you are over generalizing the people who do such things as trollers and haters who gives low ratings out of spite or those fake members who gives high ratings just to beef up the rating of the book. I admit they are present in the site but they are not the MAJORITY. I like the current system. It’s simple and uncomplicated and I just want to rate the books I’ve read period.

      As for the shelves well, again I don’t see what the deal is again. It’s THEIR shelves; they have a right to name whatever it pleases them. They have a right to associate whatever book to a shelf THEY DEEM is appropriate. If you are concerned as to why you are placed in the Badly Behaving Author shelf you can message the member to get a clarification as to why you are included in that shelf. If you get a response great. If you don’t well you just have to live with the fact that you can’t please everybody. I don’t think it’s a personal attack on you. He’s just expressing his opinion.

  21. Great analysis, David. It tracks closely with what indie author Hugh Howey just wrote.

    I find all the blather about “monopolies” and “Amazon swallowing the world” to be incredibly tiresome, and rooted in ignorance of basic economics. Unless it gains some form of governmental favoritism (e.g., subsidies, legal barriers against its competitors, etc.), Amazon, like any company, always is subject to competitive pressures that ultimately will discipline its behavior in the marketplace. Should its practices become abusive to authors or readers, a host of rivals will spring up in the marketplace to take advantage of that stupidity by offering writers and readers a better deal. I would remind people that there are many forms of books, no obstacles to publishing them, and endless places to buy them. No company could control them all even it it wanted to, and creative people will always invent new ways to deliver stories to consumers.

    Amazon has achieved its status, not by dishonesty or coercion, but by pursuing excellence, especially in customer service. It has provided writers, who once struggled to break into an oligopolistic publishing industry, the opportunity to self-publish and market their works to a vast international audience, on terms much better than those offered by traditional publishers. It has allowed writers like me — past age sixty and out of options — the chance to reboot my writing career and become a bestselling novelist. And in all my dealings with Amazon, I have experienced nothing but stellar service, fair play, and an authentic desire to help me become successful…which, thanks to them, I have.

    That kind of behavior and “win/win” attitude is why Amazon has grown so rapidly to dominate its competitors in the book world. If those rivals spent more time striving for excellence in customer service, and less bashing Amazon for its well-earned success, they would have much less to worry about, and the book world would be a far better place.

  22. I’m increasingly convinced that Amazon’s success is facilitated by the incompetence or inaction of its competitors. It’s not just Amazon’s big pile of money. They are smart at this, or at least smarter than others.

    1. Exactly. Anyone else could have made this purchase. They didn’t. Personally, I’m glad it *wasn’t* somebody else. I think Apple, Facebook, or one of the Big 6 would have made a total balls of it. And really, those were the options. Someone was gonna purchase GR.

  23. All good points. Just yesterday I exchanged emails with someone who thought GR should get into ebook sales with my argument being that their infrastructure couldn’t handle what they were doing now much less add that kind of strain. Now they will have unlimited tech development resources — and that is exciting.

    But there is a real fear in all of this: advertising costs. Currently, Goodreads and Amazon are the two most expensive and effective display advertising venues around. GR requires a minimum $5,000/month commitment and Amazon’s minimum is $25,000. What will the costs be after the deal closes?

    Peace, Seeley

    1. It’s a little known fact that Goodreads have been selling e-books for quite some time. I had mine up there for sale since June 2011. Don’t think I sold one the whole time I was selling thousands elsewhere. The interface is really really crappy, and, most importantly, readers don’t know about it.

      I don’t understand why Goodreads didn’t really attempt to sell books – to make a real go of it, I mean. If nothing else, it surely would have pushed up the purchase price.

      Oh and regarding advertising, Goodreads have had a self-serve program for some time (at least 18 months or so, cos that’s when I first tried it). It’s not great, but you can test it for small amounts (I think I spent about $40 tinkering with it). Also, there have been rumors for some time that Amazon is going to launch some self-serve system too. We’ll see.

  24. I’m concerned about point 3. Having read a lot about ‘The Zon’ arbitrarily removing reviews on its own site without explanation and refusing to answer to the protests, it has presented itself as a faceless behemoth. To whom will it be accountable when it beings to subtly change GR or even begin to delete reviews there too?
    For the record, I’m a member of both the Zon and GR and self-pubbed at the Zon. I’m not a zon-basher, but their refusal to answer questions on this matters leaves me worried.

    1. Some of Amazon’s Customer Service is really crappy. Particularly at KDP. At the other end of the scale is Author Central. Those guys are great. I wish they could take the AC guys, make them managers, and teach their approach to the rest of the company. It’s like chalk and cheese with those two.

      The reviews thing was a complete mess. Amazon has arbitrarily removed tons of genuine reviews, and left lots of the fake reviews still in place. They royally screwed up that issue. I don’t know what they were thinking. The issue was so sensitive, and they try and “solve” it with a half-baked bot and inflexible (and dumb) customer service. Terrible all round. And yeah, that does make me worry for the future and how they will handle similar issues. It’s an issue the GR community need to watch, for sure. Again, time will tell.

  25. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Following yesterday’s big news that Amazon is purchasing Goodreads outright, there’s been a lot of confusion, angst and concern on the interwebs. Or basically, WHAT DOES IT ALL MEEEEEEEEAN?! David Gaughran has some thoughts. Nutshell: calm down, folks. It’s probably gonna be fine.

  26. When I heard, it seemed like a natural move for the big A, and despite the expressions of terror being tossed around, I also think this is not going to hurt GR at all. If anything, Amazon will open it up to a broader range of books, if that is possible, and being a GR author, too, I see it only helping me.

  27. I feel like yo give a good synopsis of why this deal will be positive. As in all cases there is some downside, but overall I think readers and authors will have a good result from this move. Amazon is a big business, which brings so many advantages to its users.

  28. Excellent analysis, David!

    Goodreads desperately needs to become more user-friendly. And nobody knows how to accomplish that like The Zon! – Dee Dee Scott

    I totally agree with Dee Dee Scott’s comments above and that was the first thing I said to another writer yesterday when we were discussing this. When I first self-published on Amazon a year ago I did it all myself and every time I had something I needed to know Amazon was right there with the answer. I now have 43 books/short stories on Amazon and all that is down to Amazon’s user friendly way of doing things.

    I gave up on Goodreads in the middle of last year because it was too difficult to navigate around for an author – now that Amazon has bought it I’ll be looking to go back in. I see this Amazon purchase as extremely positive. Amazon works the way that American companies used to work in the 1950s – they have lots of excess capacity and if something needs to be done then they just do it.

    My latest short story is “A Dangerous Scotsman in Tajikistan”. I published that one last Friday night and my first sale was up on Amazon on Saturday morning. That is about one a half years ahead of an old fashioned publisher.

    Michael Ward

    Amazon’s Michael Ward Page


  29. Dear David:

    There’s a number of very specific reasons to dislike Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads; the tone of your column is the most salient.

    Unlike Amazon “supporters,” Goodreads visitors and reviewers do not confuse themselves with a posse for consumerism whose role is to browbeat and shout down the “opposition,” by which you mean anyone who is willing to take on a critical role toward literature, or Business. Or rather, toward Literature AND Business, since your type can’t see the difference between the two.


    PhD, DSFS

    1. Your condescending tone doesn’t add much to the conversation. And, I don’t mean to speak for him, but if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’d know Dave isn’t a blind supporter of Amazon by an stretch of the imagination. And why the anonymous signoff?

      Matt Iden
      B.A., M.A. English Literature

    2. Dear artvisits PhD, DSFS:

      What? “The tone of your column is the most salient”? What does that even mean?

      “…anyone who is willing to take on a critical role toward literature.” You seem to be attempting to say that one should be a useful critic in pointing out good literature (versus bad). But then you equate literature with business, which has nothing to do with that point. Those who want to make money writing are not writing literature? I THINK that’s what you’re trying to say, though I can’t be sure.

      Clarity of thinking leads to clarity of writing.

      B.A., English, Tufts University
      Juris Doctor, Washington College of Law, American University
      G.P.D., Vocal Performance, Hartt School, University of Hartford

      1. I think Patrice won on the, let’s list our credentials to impress, gig.
        Dr. Seuss’s Academy for Free Thinking
        School of Hard Knocks
        University of the Street

    3. If you thought I was brow-beating here, you really should read some of my articles on Penguin and Author Solutions. The gloves were very much on here. I was trying to be balanced and deal with what I think are genuine concerns with the purchase, and present my opinions on why I think some of those concerns are misplaced. But you know what? None of us know how this will play out. I think I’ve highlighted the areas where we can keep an eye on Amazon and Goodreads, and the community is not without power here if anyone starts misbehaving.

      1. Dear David: Your last sentence reminds me of Adorno’s comment that the Culture Industry fosters the illusion of autonomy among “the apocryphal sphere of ‘amateurs,’ who, in any case, are organized from above… The mentality of the public, which allegedly and actually favors the system of the culture industry, is a part of the system, not an excuse for it.”

        Which side are you on, boy, which side are you on?

  30. Most has been said and I agree with all the positive comments about the acquisition. I can’t see any problems, and think it’s a move for the good. Thanks’s, David, for putting together all the facts and summarising the position. Goodreads is a great sight – this move will make it even better for the reasons given in David’s post.

  31. There’s a spectrum of discomfort about this acquisition that ranges from truly loony to a light squirming in the seat. I’m leaning towards the latter. Amazon’s history in supporting self-published authors is second to none and I’m a full fan, user, and beneficiary of the company. I truly want it to succeed–especially when I consider the alternatives like Big Six publishing or the seeming indifference/incompetence of other digital book sellers.

    But unease isn’t a zero sum game. I can be deliriously happy that links to Amazon will now actually appear below my books on Goodreads yet feel a little frightened at the prospect that the window of competition in digital publishing has closed a bit more. Track records are nice and really the only data points we have when we try to predict the future, but if past performance were all we needed to be assured of good intentions by near-monopolies, the world would be a safer, happier place.

    I don’t mean to dump on what is in many ways a good day for indies and certainly a great day for Goodreads as a company, but I’d feel happier if the acquisition had taken place in a healthier environment of competition…not moved closer to becoming the environment.

    1. Squirming is fine 🙂

      I read your post on the purchase. Your concerns definitely don’t fall on the loony end of the spectrum (and there’s a lot out there that does).

      If the window of competition is closing, who is responsible for that? Anyone else could have purchased Goodreads. Random House are swimming in cash right now. Apple and Google aren’t short of money. And Penguin could have purchased Goodreads for less than they paid for Author Solutions.

      Amazon made the move. The others just have themselves to blame. Should Amazon be handicapped because of the incompetence or apathy or stupidity of its competitors? Would you feel better if Apple or Google or Microsoft or HarperCollins had purchased Goodreads?

      If you want an example of how the Big 6 think book discovery and reader communities should operate, just take a look at the awful Bookish. Now, there’s a site that embodies many of the fears people have about this purchase. All the recommendations are top-down, not reader driven. All of the books come from the three large publishers funding the site. All of the purchase links go to the Bookish store and can only be read via the Bookish app. Amazon doesn’t discriminate against any publisher (you, me, or Penguin) when it comes to listing or recommending books.

      1. Not wanting Amazon to have a finger in every pie is not the same thing as wishing Random House or Penguin or Google did instead. But, point taken.

        I think of my position as less of an indictment of Amazon than a lament. Amazon buying Goodreads is probably the best of all possible outcomes as things stand. I just wish that there were more little Amazons (Amazettes?) doing good things for the industry instead of one big one. But if wishes were horses…

  32. I’m willing to wait and see about this…I don’t think it could be half as bad as some of the negative responses are making it out. My only concern would be connected with reviews. If Amazon tried to apply that controversial rule about authors reviewing competitors’ books to Goodreads reviewers, that would be plain disaster. I only post Amazon reviews on occasion; I review on Goodreads a lot. I use GR as a reader far more than I do as a writer, and I wouldn’t like that to be taken away. What do you think – is this a legitimate concern, or something Amazon won’t bother with?

  33. Well reasoned arguments as usual, but I worry about the sheer size of Amazon. It’s like a huge octopus, swallowing everything in sight. I was sorry to read that Amazon already has its claws (tentacles) into LibraryThing and Shelfari. How can Amazon’s vast monopolistic influence be a good thing? What worries me more about Amazon is the sinister move toward “secondhand” ebooks and I can see the day coming when indie authors are washed out of the system in favour of digitized content from the back- (and current) lists of big five authors.

    1. Hey JJ, I just wanted to respond to this quickly before shutting off the internet and retreating into my writing cave:

      Amazon’s a big company, no doubt. But can you point me to harmful actions they have taken towards authors or readers. Amazon pretty much single-handedly created the digital market for books, which has led to the revolution in self-publishing and the ability of writers to reach readers directly without going through publishing companies who often forced unfair contracts (and crappy royalties) on writers because they had no other viable option.

      Also, they’ve owned LibraryThing and Shelfari for years without any negative developments of the sort you are worried about. I’m not saying that such a proposition is impossible, I’m pointing to the track record and saying it doesn’t seem to be likely.

      As for second-hand e-books, I’m not too worried about that. For starters, they’ve only applied for a patent – and Amazon (and all other tech companies) apply for tons of patents every year that never lead to anything. Even if the purported second-hand marketplace for e-books transpires (and I think we are a long way away from that), I can’t imagine it coming into existence without some form of author compensation. The way I see it working is something like an even split between Amazon, the seller, and the author/publisher. Anything that helps us in the battle against obscurity – which all but the very top-selling authors face – can only be a good thing IMO. Besides, what will those reader/sellers do with that cash? Buy more books.

      Finally, as for the prospect of being washed out of the system in favor of backlist from the big players, virtually every move Amazon makes seems to level the playing field for self-publishers – which is a very different story to the stacked deck we often face elsewhere.

      Honestly, do you think the prospect of Barnes & Noble, or Apple, or HarperCollins, or Microsoft purchasing Goodreads would lead to better things for us? I don’t.

      1. The hysteria over second-hand ebooks slays me. Amazon applied for a patent of a certain type of technology and based purely on the wild blogger speculation, the used ebook hysteria began.

        Then there was the hysteria over Amazon changing their affiliate rules to prohibit link farms from promoting free books.

        Oh, and of course, the hysteria over publisher price-fixing that somehow became Amazon’s fault. Those poor publishers were only trying to protect their business, after all, and not devalue the work of their authors.

        Now it’s Amazon buying Goodreads. Oh my God the sky is falling!

        Every indication I’ve seen is that Amazon not only loves readers, but loves authors as well. I suspect that much of the hysteria generated over every move they make comes from competitors who would rather bitch and moan than innovate.

      2. “But can you point me to harmful actions they have taken towards authors or readers.”

        1) They bought Mobipocket, used it to develop the Kindle format, and then wound down support for the Mobipocket format.

        2) In the early part of the last decade, it used to be possible for publishers to sell their e-books in several formats at Amazon, including PDF. A fair number of indie authors were distributing their e-books to Amazon in that manner, using standard publishing-industry discounts. Amazon shut down that possibility after they bought Mobipocket. It eventually became clear that Amazon had done so in order to establish Kindle as the dominant e-book format and to funnel all indie e-books sold at Amazon through its own self-publishing program, which took a cut of the profits (initially a very hefty cut, 65%).

        3) Amazon played hardball with indie Lightning Source publishers in 2008, threatening not to carry their books, in an effort to persuade those publishers to switch to their own POD service (the predecessor to CreateSpace).

        4) Amazon bought Stanza, the most popular independent iPhone e-book reader app, and then announced that they were ceasing to support it.

        5) Authors are apparently no longer permitted to post reviews of other authors’ books at Amazon.

        6) Amazon has a very mixed history when it comes to carrying controversial books. Sometimes they claim to be a neutral carrier of books; at other times they go on the warpath against titles they consider iffy. I’ve watched them dropping titles since the 1990s, usually without fanfare. And I’m sure everyone here remembers this incident.

        A lot of the reason that Amazon may come across as amiable toward readers and writers is that they don’t send out press releases when they play nasty.

        Having said that, I’m not an Amazon hater. I think they’re simply a big business, and like any other big business, they look out for #1. I don’t think they’re any worse than many other big businesses, and they’ve done a lot of stuff I appreciate, such as what you mention: reviving the struggling e-book industry and making it easy for self-publishers to submit their e-books and print to Amazon.

        But I wouldn’t say that “First do no harm” is a motto that Amazon is uniformly adhered to. They have a checkered career – and I think you’ve noted that yourself in previous posts.

      3. Yeah, I knew I was going to get into trouble with that sentence. Serves me right for rushing.

        We could argue the toss on the mobipocket stuff, I could concede the LS and Stanza stuff and fight you on the review issue (authors *can* review books, I have plenty of reviews up, they just can’t review anything they have a financial interest in – although there have been issues with *how* Amazon auto-polices that).

        I could respond with a list of things they bought and improved (such as BookSurge/Createspace) or a list of things they bought and didn’t touch (like Zappos or Abe or or The Book Depository)

        In the end though, the only thing that will tell us what Amazon will or won’t do to Goodreads and its community is time. I deliberately highlighted the words of all the key players here – around the main (non-crazy) issues that the GR community have with the purchase – so that we have a clear record where we can compare future deeds with past words.

        There’s little equivocation in the statements released, and if they break the pledges they have made, there’s little wiggle room built into these positions.

  34. Excellent analysis, David!

    Goodreads desperately needs to become more user-friendly. And nobody knows how to accomplish that like The Zon!

    In return, The Zon gets the data they need to continue to keep up with the fabulous skill they have to know “exactly what we might like” next!

    That’s value added to both sites which means value added for each of us (as readers and authors).

    Perhaps, for The Zon, it went something like this: “You won’t let us play with you, Goodreads? Fine. We’ll just buy you…then we can play too!”

  35. Given that I’ve been a member on Goodreads for many years now (first as a reader, later as an author) and that most of my book sales come from Amazon, I see this as a huge win. I’m looking forward to having Amazon logos and buy links more prominently featured and I’m curious to see what advertising or marketing plans Amazon helps Goodreads implement. I’m neutral on how reviews play out. I don’t mind if they move to a single system or just leave them separate. There are a number of comments on the Goodreads blog, though, stating that they’d like to see the two systems integrated.

  36. You may be right about Amazon, I’ve not seen anything that indicates they would interfere too much with Goodreads. If they did, then boots would walk and the database rapidly become obsolete. The fear I’ve seen on the net is mainly fear of the unknown. Time will tell.

  37. The rise of amazon was both a fascinating and somewhat disturbing phenomenon. Their share of the market is now monopolistic, and with all monopolies they will dominate the market as they now see fit. The sky has fallen in.

  38. I know many, many writers who avoid GR like the plague because of the negative impact of a few members. The first thing we wondered was “Will Amazon do something about the trolls/bullies?” Otherwise, this acquisition is mostly considered a good thing.

    1. This is another case of rampant corporatism out of control. Amazon would presume to control all printed matter and deciding for you what books are available. If you control all the books and what’s available you can control the minds of the people. This kinda like Fahrenheit 451, but instead of burning books to control info, they intend to control the info and control who’s books get promoted and those who’s don’t. One corporation should never be allowed to grow so big they can influence the dissemination of knowledge and control what we are told as determined by corporate policy, a policy that Amazon is very reticent to reveal.

    2. It depends on which GoodReads groups you join. I joined one group and was insulted and bullied on Day 1 when my contributions ceased. On the other hand, The Mystery Thriller group is great.

      1. I’m in the m/m group, but I rarely visit. First, I’m too busy. Second, it’s a large group, and while I don’t feel unwelcome, I simply don’t have time to interact on that site. I think size matters when it comes to online groups, and this one is way too big. It’s easy to get lost there.

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