On deleting my Goodreads account

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
  • AmazonCrossing
  • AmazonEncore
  • Audible
  • BookFinder.com
  • Brilliance Audio
  • Library Thing (a minor holding via their purchasing of Abe Books which was a LT partner)
  • Montlake Romance
  • Shelfari
  • 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.

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29 Responses to On deleting my Goodreads account

  1. janebbooks says:

    Bernadette…you can’t escape Amazon tentacles…

    I’ll miss you on Good Reads!

    Jane

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    • Probably can’t escape Jane but I’m not going to make it easy for them to own me 🙂

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        • I don’t disagree with much of that commentary Jane. I agree for example that the primary reason for Amazon to purchase GR is the composite data provided by the transactions (reviews, ratings, discussions, click-throughs etc) provided by GR’s users. My point is that I don’t want to provide free data for Amazon. Amazon is an American company aimed at making profits in America for its American shareholders – none of that is wrong but it doesn’t make much sense for me as an Australian to help them do it when I get little in return (I don’t even get particularly cheap books – we pay different prices for kindle books than US readers and buying physical books through Amazon is rarely a cheap option once you add postage). I haven’t said Amazon is evil, though I do think some of its business practices are less than desirable (in the same way that I think some of Apple’s practices are equally undesirable) and I haven’t called for others to leave Goodreads. I honestly don’t care what anyone else does, I just didn’t get enough value out of GR myself to continue giving them my valuable intellectual property and hours of free labour (I was a site librarian and spent hours cleaning up the book data after the infamous Amazon split 12 or so months ago) for nothing. When GR was an independent entity I was happy enough to do that but with the site being owned by one of the world’s wealthiest companies I don’t feel the same way about providing “me” (my thoughts, my value as a piece of data or my hours of time) to them. These are the very same reasons I do not have (and have never had) a Facebook account.

          The fact that the article you linked to ends with reasons why the acquisition will help self-published authors is, also, something I agree with and a final minor reason why I’m happy to have left GR. I know it’s not politically correct to say so but I have already had more than enough of self published authors and their endless self promotion of what, in my admittedly limited experience, is often poor quality product (the usual caveats about exceptions proving the rule of course apply). I’ve probably got enough “normally’ published books on my TBRs and wishlists to last me a decade and despite all claims to the contrary I still find that mainstream publishing provides me with a far higher ratio of good books than self publishing does. I don’t feel like its my job as a reader (or a GR user) to help self published authors get known/sales/whatever it is they want so I am not even remotely interested in how the acquisition of GR by Amazon will help self published authors. My GR inbox was already groaning under the weight of entreaties from self published authors to read their books (and of course give them 5 star reviews) – the thought of even more of that kind of pleading would have been enough to make me weep.

          But I left GR so I wouldn’t have to spend any more of my precious free time worrying about that kind of crap. I don’t think it was a chicken little move because it was made for what are basically personal reasons but I also don’t care if someone else thinks it was an overreaction. I’ve already moved on from there in my head and have no regrets about the decision.

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  2. JoV says:

    So far I have benefited from Amazon more than I am ever infuriated by them, which is nil. But yes like you said, I would be wary of companies who try to dominate everything as it would mean one day we will be held hostage to it. (Like we did with the phased out of Google Reader).

    I will still see you here but will miss you at Goodreads!

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  3. Marg says:

    I am not pressing the delete button just yet. Will wait to see what happens first. Amazon does seem to want to rule the world, along with Apple!

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  4. Bernadette – Can’t say that I blame you at all. If you’re not getting what you want from a site, and you are getting harassed with ads (not to mention the takeover thing), why stay? There are other online sites for good book discussions.

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  5. Sarah says:

    Interesting Bernadette. I’ve been thinking of leaving Goodreads for a while. I use it to log my reading am getting sick of all the promotional stuff and invites I’m not interested in. I’m going to check out Collectorz now.

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  6. Rebecca says:

    I think I’ll just import everything into an Excel spreadsheet. I’m old-school.

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    • Nothing wrong with old school Rebecca…I only switched from a spreadsheet to something else because I wanted something mobile (got caught too many times buying duplicate books)

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  7. Tsana says:

    I always kept LibrayThing as my main book cataloging thing (never found a satisfactory offline app back in the day). I liked what they had to say about GRzon: http://www.librarything.com/topic/152033

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  8. TracyK says:

    I have been using Collectorz for years (at least 10?) and love it. I only used it locally, however. I use Goodreads for other reasons. I had not ever thought about Amazon in those terms… I did not know they owned so many things. Very interesting.

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  9. Kathy D. says:

    Good for you, Bernadette! If I belonged to Goodreads, I would have done the same thing.
    I wonder how soon it’ll be before Amazon (or Apple) rule the world.

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  10. Mrs P. says:

    Ah, the relentless rise of Amazon. I’ve found myself getting increasingly disenchanted with this company, having been an enthusiastic customer for years. Here in the UK there’s been lots of negative publicity about tax avoidance and the hike in rates for third-party traders (see links below). And I had no idea of how many other things they’ve been swallowing up – thanks for illuminating this. I don’t think I’ll be able to boycott completely, but now spend just a fraction with them of what I used to spend.

    I use LibraryThing to keep track of my reading and like it very much. I have Good Reads on my mobile as an app, purely to note books I hear about when I’m on the move.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/dec/03/amazon-google-starbucks-tax-avoidance
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/mar/28/amazon-fees-hike-third-party

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    • Thanks for those links Mrs P, I wasn’t aware of the tax issue but did notice the story about the fee hike for their third party suppliers. I don’t blame companies for trying to maximise their profits but I am totally fed up with them pretending they’re really only interested in their customers (Amazon claims to be the most customer centric company on earth or something equally nonsensical).

      I don’t think anyone could boycott Amazon completely – including me (I have made no secret of the fact my very survival depends on my audible account and audible is now owned by Amazon, though it wasn’t when I first became hooked). I just like to think people are at least aware of what they’re doing – who they’re buying from etc in all aspects of their lives. You don’t want to get me started on Nestle or Nike 🙂

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  11. Kathy D. says:

    I think these are all good reasons. I think Amazon is way beyond just selling and profiting in the U.S. They have global aspirations and sell elsewhere. There is an Amazon U.K., and maybe there will be Amazons in other countries, too.
    One thing no one mentions, and which I read about over here, is the abysmal working conditions under which their employees toil to get all of these orders filled immediately. Not much of the spoils raked in by Amazon goes to their own workforce, which is, after all, doing the work to fulfill their employers’ promises. This bothers me probably more than anything else.

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    • I’ve only heard a little about that aspect of Amazon’s practices Kathy but it does sound troubling. I can’t see how they can offer the sorts of pricing they do without working their people to the bone though so I am not surprised. And with so many willing to be blind to it as long as they are getting their own goods cheap the practices will continue.

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  12. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: I expect I will keep buying directly from bookstores and keep avoiding Amazon. I rarely look at the website, have never bought anything from the company and do not read the reviews posted by the company.

    Are you worried about other worldwide conspiracies in real life or just in fiction? Not serious. Just posing a rhetorical question.

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    • Good for you Bill.

      As for conspiracies I am a little too cynical to believe in elaborate, real-world ones. Having worked for various governments I find it difficult to believe that there could be so many secrets kept as the conspiracy nuts would have us believe 🙂

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  13. olganm says:

    There are Amazon in other countries. So far, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, as you said UK…
    I don’t know about buying at bookstores (I must admit I’m reading more and more e-books these days), but with regards to music, some big chains here in UK like HMV have now disappeared…

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    • I wonder how many of its millions stay in those other economies in which Amazon operates? Not many I suspect. Anyway I know for sure that virtually none of the company’s money does anything to help Australia’s economy and as that’s of most interest to me personally I see no reason to support the company on a “what’s good for it is good for us” argument.

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      • Tsana says:

        They channel all their European profits through Luxembourg to avoid paying taxes in the countries they’re actually selling in. (Apparently Luxembourg has laxer tax laws or something.) If you google Amazon working conditions, lots of exposes have been written. I wanted to link to one I saw in the Guardian not long ago about a new “fulfilment centre” in a small UK town, but I cant find it.

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  14. Kathy D. says:

    I did read about protests by German workers against Amazon’s labor practices at their six facilities in Germany. The workers, all immigrant temporary workers from countries hit hard by unemployment, were paid less than German workers, and frightening-looking security guards made sure they didn’t protest the wages and working conditions. A film was made about it and shown in February in Germany, thus eliciting media coverage there.

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  16. Col says:

    I have to admit in the past couple of months Goodreads has turned into one of my favourite sites. I enjoy some group chats with a few people, interested in similar types of books as myslelf and pick up a few recommendations for other books that may interest me. I can’t say I really notice the ads. I might browse the recommandations list, but haven’t felt “pressured.”

    As regards Amazon UK, I’m probably a fan – price being king when I go to buy something. Re tax avoidance, can’t say I blame them – it is up to the relevant authorities to plug any avoidance schemes, rather than a business to pay tax when it can legally opt not to.

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