Initial thoughts on the Great Goodreads Takeover

ramblings

On March 28, 2013, news quietly spread that Amazon, that omnipotent, indie-killing ethereal monster, was taking over Goodreads. While the action shocked and angered many, the effects of the takeover are less than clear.

The first issue to consider, I think, is whether or not this action will really make a difference. After all, Goodreads has always had a retail presence. On every book’s record, users have the option to make a purchase on an affiliate website. There is little doubt that Amazon will provide preferential treatment to its own website (and probably eliminate any other purchase options), but this isn’t terribly new. Amazon has been driving other stores out of business for years. But will this mean anything to users as far as Goodreads itself is concerned? Maybe not. After all, Amazon did take over Audible without any really noticeable effect.

But, of course, the concerns are farther reaching than that. It is rather alarming that Amazon is taking over Goodreads when, just five years ago, it took over Shelfari. Of the big three, that leaves LibraryThing as the lone non-Amazon literary social network (there are others, but their usage is nowhere near comparable). One of the greatest things about these sites is that, for the most part, you can get unbiased opinions of books. There’s no worry that some business or another is making negative reviews disappear or hiring people to write positive reviews. There is no doubt that this still happens on social sites, but the incentive isn’t as great. Because there’s no direct purchase on the site, the return on investment isn’t very great. But when Amazon is integrated into the social network? Hmm.

And what about those reviews? Goodreads has an impressive 16 million members who have contributed a total of 23 million reviews. The reviews all belong to their respective authors, as stated in the Goodreads terms of use. But will it stay that way? It’s pretty hard to tell. There is presently a mass exodus underway based almost exclusively on the concern over reviewers losing the rights to their intellectual property. This may seem silly, but to serious book reviewers, their body of work is a commodity that they’re reluctant to hand over to some for-profit business. To make things more complicated, Amazon has some pretty strict rules regarding product reviews on its own site, which, if applied to Goodreads, will almost certainly result in user reviews being deleted (as is Amazon policy). So even if users decide to keep their work parked on the Amazon-owned site, they run the risk of losing stuff.

At minimum, it seems pretty safe to assume that these reviews will all be mined for data, as will ratings and comments. There’s just too much information about individual users for them not to capitalize on it all. The shady thing is that all of this information was given in good faith. Voting for this review or joining that group was a way to connect with others over shared interests. There was a high degree of camaraderie in the action, which is now probably going to be stolen to better market products.

Even if nothing perceptible happens, I think we should all be, at minimum, raising our collective eyebrow in alarm. This thing that Amazon is doing hasn’t really been done before. Like Google and Facebook, they’re slowly taking over independent web spaces. If left unchecked, they’re going to do to the Internet what they did to the real world. We’re getting to the point where everything we do online is being tracked and used against us. It may sound like a conspiracy theory (I happen to have definitive proof that an Amazon rep was on the grassy knoll that day), but it isn’t. It’s just unchecked capitalism. This is a growing monopoly that isn’t being recognized as one, because it’s hard to realize what is actually happening. Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, is taking over a social media site. The two seem like different things. But when you realize that Amazon is probably going to cut out all the other businesses who previously were linked to on Goodreads and is going to use its vast resources to use that huge bank of data to better hone its services, the picture gets a little less foggy.

This is just another leg up for a company that needs to be knocked down a peg.

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