Goodreads + Amazon: Winners and losers
I decided to wait a few days before writing about Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads. I wanted to let the dust settle before weighing in with my own opinion. Now that I've had some time to mull it over, here's what I think: This has the potential to be a game-changer that could be the next, and possibly final, nail in the coffins of other ebook retailers...but only if Amazon actually does something with the Goodreads platform.
I first have to say that I'm very disappointed that such a great service will no longer be independent. The acquisition makes a ton of sense for Amazon, of course. In the sporting spirit of the best defense being a great offense, Amazon gobbled it up before someone else did. Shame on those other ebook platforms for not jumping in first though. The combination of, say, Google and Goodreads might have finally put Google on the ebook map. That assumes Google even cares about ebooks though, which is a debatable.
What about B&N? While they're focusing on possibly splitting the company and the future of Nook device production they just saw a terrific acquisition candidate disappear.
Another interesting scenario that will now never be is the Goodreads and Readmill combination. See Craig Mod's thinking on that here.
Let's get past all that though and consider what might happen next now that Goodreads is an Amazon property.
I got to spend some time with Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler at TOC NY in February. We talked about how I use Goodreads to record purchases and rate books I've read, but that I never use it for book discovery. Based on his reaction I got the impression I'm not alone. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that many (most?) Goodreads members track their purchases and ratings there but don't use it as a discovery tool.
So how will this change under Amazon?
Let's remember that this isn't Amazon's first investment in this space. They already own Shelfari and they've got an investment stake in LibraryThing. I haven't seen technology from either of those companies integrated into the Amazon catalog though, have you? Maybe Amazon was just waiting to acquire the biggest player, Goodreads, before adding this type of functionality to their website. After all, whoever wins the discovery war ultimately sells more products and is crowned the winner.
For a glimpse of what the future might hold, take a look at slides 27 and 28 from the presentation Otis made at TOC NY. Those statistics on slide 27 show that when most readers finish a book they want to learn more about similar books and what else that author has written. IOW, they're open to being pitched on what to buy next. They also want to discuss the book with their friends and read other people's reviews. Meanwhile, as Otis showed on slide 28, what readers get at the end of the book serves none of those interests.
Now imagine that same, static back-of-book ad on slide 28 becomes the Goodreads platform, right inside your ebook. That's a nice enhancement for the consumer and it will drive a lot more ebook purchases for Amazon. It also opens up a huge can of worms.
Does Amazon, or any ebook retailer, have the right to insert something like this in the ebooks they sell? Would they have to get the publisher's permission before doing so? After all, those other titles recommended at the end of the book (or maybe throughout while it's being read) via this new integrated service will likely come from a variety of publishers. Does publisher X really want to see publisher Y's ebooks promoted in their products?
As I mentioned at the start, this is all predicated on Amazon actually doing something with Goodreads, not just hoarding the platform. Remember the original Kindle from 2007? Compare the reading experience of that to what you have on today's Kindles and Kindle apps and I think you'll agree there's been very little innovation in the past 5+ years. Yes, there are new devices, but the reading app itself hasn't changed much.
By integrating Goodreads into Kindle devices and apps Amazon has a tremendous opportunity to enhance their platform in a way the competition simply won't be able to touch. No, it doesn't change how an ebook is read, but we're talking about a significant impact it could have on further reinforcing Amazon's leadership position and driving more ebook revenue.
Years ago I exported my ratings and reviews from LibraryThing and imported them into Goodreads. At the time Goodreads was a terrific independent platform with lots of momentum. It's still a great service today and I'm sure it will continue to be solid within Amazon, but where can I go now for a service that's still platform-independent? And since there's no guarantee that today's independent provider won't be tomorrow's Amazon acquisition, maybe it's time to accept the fact that platform independence is nothing more than a myth.
Shelfari content is used as one of the sources for Kindle's XRRay feature (the other being Wikipedia), and the 'Book Extras' section in Kindle Store book descriptions. I think Book Extras actually predated XRay so this has been in place for awhile. Shelfari.com is one of the few domains you can browse for free on newer 3G-enabled Kindles (Kindle Touch and Paperwhite), and in theory you can edit information there on the Kindle (in practice, the Kindle web browser will try the patience of most people).
Google Books, Kobo books, and Sony ebookstore all link to Goodreads to include these in their store reviews. Amazon has stated they have 'no plans' to remove the API (no doubt contractual obligations help enforce this). But Google/Kobo/Sony have to be reconsidering this in light of the acquisition. At the same time, Amazon should be careful to avoid over-doing things on Goodreads with overtures to join the Kindleverse.
Posted by: Tom Semple | April 01, 2013 at 02:51 PM
Interesting observations. I Identify with how you use Goodreads. I've yet to see anything of interest in "recommendations". I used to find Amazon's recommendations were good most of the time but I find it quite difficult to discover material to read on Kindle -- too much chaff gets in the way. I love how easy it is to purchase on the Kindle though. This weekend, miles from civilisation, I was able to download and read both the LRB and the NYT review of book.
Posted by: Izzy | April 01, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Joe -- you bring up some very good points. Time will tell what happens to Goodreads. I tend to think Amazon will do subtle changes and try to not ruin the experience. Thing about all the data on readers they have purchased? They will be able to exploit the thousands of followers to specific authors.
But I am also of the belief that over time Goodreads will be less important for discovery. There will be other networks independent of Amazon that will rise to help market and sell books.
Posted by: 38enso | April 01, 2013 at 05:25 PM
Nice POV, Joe. I have similar feelings about this acquisition. Speaking as a user and not necessarily as a publishing professional, the thing that has me feeling most apprehensive is the rating system. I trust the customer ratings information more on Goodreads than I do on Amazon. There aren't vine reviews. There aren't marketplace reviews (one star for slow shipping). There aren't badges for top reviewers. It just feels more accurate and organic, and I don't want that to change.
That said, I totally agree that an acquisition was going to happen sooner or later.
Posted by: L Lefevere | April 01, 2013 at 05:37 PM
I'm not a sci-fi writer but as a novelist, I often think in terms of what-ifs. When I heard of Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads my mind took off not so much in terms of what this would do to revenue but of the growing influence Amazon has on the public's reading choices. 1984 was required reading when I was in high school. I think it gave me a suspicious mind.
Posted by: Karen Robbins | April 02, 2013 at 08:16 AM
Regarding the question, "Does publisher X really want to see publisher Y's ebooks promoted in their products?" The answer is probably Yes if publisher X gets a cut of the sales. The Amazon Associates program could be adapted for this purpose; it's an affiliate program that pays web sites (at a notoriously low CPM) for purchases made by people who click from the web site to Amazon. We once had a person who clicked a book link on our web site and ended up buying a $4,300 toilet. Joe, you've really hit on something here: Amazon doesn't need to change Goodreads, which could make Goooreads less popular. Amazon can derive value from Goodreads from using its data to recommend additional purchases. One thing that will change is B&N's favored status for "Get a copy:"
Posted by: MarkWWhite | April 02, 2013 at 08:39 AM