What Amazon’s Acquistion Of Goodreads Means For Self-Publishers

So what does the news that Amazon is to acquire Goodreads actually mean for us self-publishers?  Most of us relish Goodreads, and actively star each other’s work, as Goodreads proves to be a more successful platform for honest consumer review than Amazon in some ways – less glitchy than the strange process used by Amazon’s over-zealous non-bookish reviewers in that it tends to attract real bookworms with literary brains.

With 16 million members, it’s no wonder Amazon was grappling for control. So will Amazon complete its domination of everything book?

My worry would be that Goodreads up to now, has flourished as an honest social network for books. When Amazon took on Shelfari, it kind of died.  So Amazon had to get ahold of Goodreads, and the undisclosed eight-figure sum meant Goodreads had to give up to its major book review competitor. Amazon’s review system is not honest. Reviews with nothing to do with the book get in, and nobody really challenges it.

Goodreads for me has some kind of code of honor, and this may be lost if Amazon gets its pesky process claws into the Goodreads system. Will our self-published books end up suffering yet again at the hands of the idiot consumer? I wrote about the one-star review on Amazon. I just don’t feel so angry with a one-star review on Goodreads. I can’t put my finger on it.

I also tend to use Goodreads to discover new books. It’s more user-centric for really searching out interesting reads and tends to lose all the dross. Amazon forces me to trawl through thousands of books that are badly written, bland and just trash frankly, based on the author’s ability to play the Amazon system with pricing and keywords.

Not so on Goodreads. Collaborative filtering means I don’t get that going on. I rate books I like and Goodreads tells me what to read next, not based on any kind of financial or marketing motive. Amazon makes me feel sold to. I want to enjoy browsing books in the same way I do in a bookshop with a well-read friend, and Amazon makes me feel I have a hack with no book knowledge trailing behind me telling me discount deals of really bad books.

I guess Amazon knows that they can use bookworms like me to improve their frankly terrible review profiles with expert reader reviews. But dumbing down our community means yet again I lose out to the lowest common denominators. Goodreads, like Linkedin, uses verified accounts and means spammers, flamers and idiots can’t add spiteful reviews so freely. Although it seems Goodreads reviews are lower-starred I think this is an accurate indication of the books out there, rather than the five-star reviews of friends’ books so obviously added on Amazon. We can get real feedback at the moment with Goodreads – are we going to lose that?

And I have real consumer concerns. If Amazon is to use this new database of over 16 million Goodreaders, will they combine data? Will my Goodreads profile be used to carry over to my Amazon one? So books I buy for my children, mother, father, friends will then dirty my Goodreads channel? I don’t want that.

Amazon would argue this gives them better predictive filtering, I would argue my drawers are being re-ordered without my say-so. I am an influencer of book trends, and an active Goodreads member. I don’t want ” My Little Pony” and “OAP Exercises” in my preferences! This data will dirty Amazon’s data, Goodreads data and moreover MY data!

I use Goodreads to discover, and Amazon to consume. They are not the same tool for me. But I can see marketeers at Amazon rubbing their hands in glee at all the promotions they can start slapping all over my Goodreads account.

I do see some good in all this. Maybe the other way around – Amazon has made self-publishing a kind of mission statement. Maybe by mixing the book influencers at Goodreads with more self-published works, we can see an upturn in expert consumer reviews for our self-published works. This could be a good thing. So exclusive Amazon writers could get a new outlet for solid, proven promotion.

However, I can’t help thinking the real reason Amazon and Goodreads have agreed to this is to mine expert consumer behaviour for retailers and not for us writers.

  • Ned Jewson

    Yes I don’t like it. I wonder if my goodreads is going to be big brothered.

  • Blair Evans

    You mentioned that “[Goodreads is] more user-centric for really searching out interesting reads and tends to lose all the dross. Amazon forces me to trawl through thousands of books that are badly written, bland and just trash frankly, based on the author’s ability to play the Amazon system with pricing and keywords.”

    The user mechanics on Goodreads you refer to only work if you already have some sort of momentum behind you. For books and authors that haven’t been noticed yet, but are trying to get noticed through legitimate means, the difference between the two sights is negligible. For a first time indie author, trying to get noticed on Goodreads is like trying to find a dance partner at a same sex school. Everywhere I look, there are just more people in my exact same situation. The various groups I belong to that were set up to connect authors and readers are almost void of any kind of reader base.

    I don’t get the feeling that I am remotely close to my audience or my early following on Goodreads. Goodreaders aren’t the early adopters, but rather the first majority that need some sort of approval before they’ll leap into what was previously an unknown quanitity. Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads can be discussed on every other level, but from my point of view, it can’t break what has never really worked.

    • Catherine Tosko

      Interesting way of seeing it. I don’t know; I think what helped me was using Goodreads as a consumer first and foremost and building connections, then my book went on. That way I already had a network. I find Amazon less friendly in that I can’t hit people up.

  • Blair Evans

    I agree with everything else you said though, particularly the issue of anonymity. It’s weird seeing a one star review from someone whose only other reviews are for a microwave and a tennis racket. Not exactly a window into their reader expectations. But on GR, you can at least get a picture (literally) of the person that might not have liked your book.