A bit more than a year ago the owners of bookish social networking site Goodreads thought Amazon’s terms of service for use of its data API so unreasonable it stopped using Amazon’s data to populate its extensive book catalogue; cajoling its 20,000 or so volunteer librarians to replace all that missing data with information from other sources. I suppose 12 or 15 months is enough time to conveniently forget all of that and now Good Reads is “joining the Amazon family”.
For their sake I hope the owners scored themselves a giant bundle of cash in the process and I also hope that they are able to continue making Goodreads a place that many readers like to hang out as they discuss in their announcement. But I won’t care if they don’t manage it because I just deleted my account.
I stopped using Goodreads as the only place to store all my personal reading data during the API fracas (I use some software called Collectorz which has local, mobile and online options) and I’ve never really been that interested in it as a source of book recommendations. I liked the few groups I was a member of, but not nearly enough to put up with the endless ads for things I have no interest in and increasingly suspect ‘personalised’ recommendations (what on earth could I possibly have done to be presented with a stream of recommendations for novels of a paranormal bent when I had not a single paranormal book on my shelves?). In short the site was getting more out of me (my reviews and recommendations, some of which were very popular) than I was out of it and, given I didn’t score a share of the mad cash the sites owners are hopefully rolling in, to continue this one-sided relationship seems like stupidity on my part.
Even if this takeover (and let’s not pretend it’s anything other than that given the relative size of the two organisations) is a friendly one which allows Goodreads to retain “its unique culture” as the announcements claim, it will increasingly and irrevocably tie the two entities together and I’m not interested in that. I don’t want to have to wonder if the advertisements or recommendations or promotions I’m seeing are being manipulated by the very fact of Goodreads’ ownership by Amazon (and I would wonder, always).
For those who don’t understand the anti-Amazon sentiment I don’t know that I can really explain it. Except to say that I am naturally cautious of a company which seems so intent upon owning everything that has anything to do with the publication, selling or consumption of books. Before this announcement Amazon already owned the following book-related businesses and imprints:
- 47 North
- ABE Books
- Brilliance Audio
- Library Thing (a minor holding via their purchasing of Abe Books which was a LT partner)
- Montlake Romance
- The Book Depository
- Thomas and Mercer
And while some of these relationships have, so far, have had a fairly benign impact on consumers others are…troubling to say the lest. In October 2011 for example the company announced a ‘partnership’ (the quotes are mine and indicate I am cynical about the relationship being as equal as is implied by that word) with DC comics for the exclusive digital rights to DC’s most iconic properties including Superman and Batman. Now the only way comic lovers can read these digital offerings is via a Kindle Fire (which is not great if you are a comic lover in one of the many parts of the world the device is not legally available).
In fact there is hardly anywhere in the wider retailing sector that Amazon’s tentacles haven’t spread (did you know for example that UK stalwart Marks and Spencer’s online store is operated by Amazon?) and I find that spread unsettling. I can’t do a lot about it except avoid buying through the stores where possible and not allowing the company to benefit, however tangentially, from anything I do or say. It’ll have to do for now.