The news broke on Twitter yesterday, setting the stream on fire for about an hour or so. It does ring of the insidious — that they control a small share (for now) of the buying and publishing of books, the undeniably central place to sell books, and now a very popular place to talk about books. It smacks of the way corporate media has gobbled up the entirety of its ecology and the problems we are starting to see as a result (see CBS, CNet and review troubles as just the tippy-tip and most recently visible bit of that big ol’iceberg).
There are worries (understandable of course) about how Amazon will handle GoodReads despite the current declared intentions of independent operation (especially considering how they yanked book cover images last year). Will the user experience be impacted? Ruined? It’s an attempt by Amazon to improve on its often snake-pit of a review system, GoodReads isn’t often that better and can be plagued by the same gaming activities that ruin the Amazon reviews.
It occurred to me yesterday that the purchase should not overly effect me. I am a casual user of GoodReads. It’s handy to have a place where all my books that I’ve read and want to read are listed, and I like being able to update my progress about the books I’m reading now. I’m still pretty gun shy about all things message boards, so while I am aware of the subset of reader communities in GoodReads, I’d don’t use them.
What GoodReads does provide me is a place to see and interact with people about what they’re reading.
And I think that’s what Amazon is after.
I don’t find any books via Amazon’s recommendation lists. Not a one. And their algorithms are on the fritz lately — emails to me once featured SF/F titles (which is what I buy) but now have that mass-market stamp, based solely on my gender instead of my years of Amazon buying habits. Boo. Even then, the previously targeted emails were blanket coverage and inferior to the book blogs and magazines that I follow which can offer more critical or nuanced coverage.
But I do find out about books on GoodReads, and not just in SF/F but other genres and non-fiction that I would never hear about otherwise. And my friends’ reactions to those books do influence me a great deal. I can chart back purchases or library loans I’ve made to seeing these books being read by my friends, and liking them.
That’s what Amazon wants. I don’t even think it’s a simple matter of data mining, grab-n-go. I think they want to pull that curated discoverability community directly into the Amazon experience. How that will get done? Couldn’t tell ya. Amazon can’t go in gun’s blazing looking to carve up the acquisition — the user base will revolt and a competitor site will erupt. They have to go very slowly. But if suddenly a new feature on the Amazon website allows you to connect your GoodReads account and see what your friends are reading and saying about books that might be of more interest to you than those random lists that appear on their website now, don’t be surprised.
You can only be surprised if GoodReads remains untouched and 100% independent, but I think you’d have a hard time finding anyone to make that bet with.