Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy, Content Design & UX.

Amazon has acquired Goodreads. Here’s what I think about that.

Yet another month has come and gone, and yet another pile of books has been added to my “read” shelf. I picked up the pace after February’s lull in reading. Right now, though, there’s a bigger fish to fry – I want to talk about the fact that Amazon has purchased Goodreads.

At this point, I have no idea what to think beyond my general knee-jerk reaction of Amazon = evil. A large part of the appeal of Goodreads was its independence; this acquisition just gives Amazon even more power in an industry where it’s already the 800-pound gorilla. If it turns out that the book reviews I stored on Goodreads will be made available on Amazon’s pages, I’ll pull them. However, I hope it doesn’t come to that, because I like distributing my reviews through multiple channels.

Ideally, I want Amazon to keep a loose grip on the site and leave the current user experience unchanged. I still want to be able to add books to my “to read” shelf, keep track of my current reading progress, and shelve books as I finish them. I use the group and book club features sporadically at best, and although I send messages to other users, I do so rarely. In other words, Goodreads’ social networking features aren’t as big a draw for me as its shelving and library features.

This leads me to another issue: discoverability. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how books have a “discoverability” problem, and how it’s hard for publishers and retailers to connect readers to books they don’t know about yet, but may love if they’re given the right push. Goodreads’ recommendations engine is thus an alluring addition to Amazon’s algorithms, because theoretically it will increase the conversion rate of book recommendations to sales.

I say “theoretically” because I don’t bother with Goodreads’ engine at all. Why should I when I’m inundated by book titles from so many other sources? I get recommendations from friends. I subscribe to a ton of RSS feeds and podcasts, and a few fiction magazines. Whenever a book is mentioned in one of those venues that sounds even vaguely interesting, I add it to my “to-read” shelf.

Currently, that shelf is hovering around 250 books – and that’s not counting all of the other titles I come across but ultimately ignore. I have absolutely no problem when it comes to finding new books to read. (And since the Hugo nominations were announced today, that’s yet another source of really good algorithm-free recommendations to pay attention to.)

Speaking of RSS feeds, the thing that pains me the most about Amazon’s purchase is that it comes so soon after the announcement of Google Reader’s impending shutdown. Goodreads and Reader together were a dynamite combo – both were free, were easy to use, and helped me keep track of interesting things. When Google announced that Reader was closing shop, I scrambled to find a replacement. The idea of trying to find yet another alternative to a perfectly good web service just two weeks later fills me with dread and fatigue. If it were any other month, I’d (probably) delete my account as a form of protest, but this time I’m too goddamn tired, and there doesn’t appear to be a good replacement waiting in the wings. I’m just going to wait and hope that Amazon doesn’t fuck things up.

So what about you? Are you cautiously optimistic? Are you filled with horror? I’d like to hear what you think in the comments.