When I discovered Goodreads last summer I was intrigued. I hadn’t really thought about what the site was or how it could be used in terms of marketing books. My first thought was, “What a lovely site for book nerds to come together and talk about their favorite thing: books!”
I have since become a Goodreads user, emphasis on the word “user.” I don’t write reviews and I don’t contribute to book discussions. I rate books and mark them “to-read” or “read” for my own personal enjoyment. I have just two “friends” on the site. I’m never critical of a book I “star” because I wouldn’t finish reading it if I didn’t enjoy it at least a little bit. My minimum score is three stars. I often agonize over the fact that you can’t rate a book with ½ stars. What if I think a book really deserves a ½ star more, but I don’t think it deserves five? It’s my one, really BIG complaint about Goodreads.
When Amazon bought Goodreads in May 2013, there was a lot of shock, concerns, and jokes. What would the acquisition mean for this trendy little book site? Would Amazon completely change the platform? Would people have to pay a subscription? Maybe more advertising would fill up your screen or worse, you’d have to sign into an Amazon account to use it! I think my favorite tweet was:
@faitherinhicks: Amazon bought Goodreads? ... that's gross. :(
@FakeEditor: Amazon just bought Goodreads. And in other news, Barnes & Noble didn't.
In a recent interview with the Atlantic, Goodreads founders Otis and Elizabeth Chandler answered questions about the evolution of their online community and the backlash they incurred as a result of the Amazon purchase. Back in May, many users’ opinions were clouded by a strong dislike for Amazon and the theory that Amazon would take away crowdsourced reviews, along with everything else that could possibly be good about Goodreads. Another tweet:
@okgirl96: I don't view Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads as a positive. Inevitable, yes.
Elizabeth Chandler addressed the question head-on in an Atlantic interview: “I think all those things you said haven’t changed. You can’t buy reviews on Goodreads. It’s still crowdsourced. [Amazon]’s not involved in the way we run Goodreads. Just to allay your fears!”
Otis Chandler went on to say that the continued success and growth of Goodreads is not attributed to Amazon in any way. He said, “I think the first fruits of the Amazon partnership were the Goodreads on Kindle apps, which launched in November and got their first light of day Christmas morning, mostly, when the new devices were opened. Christmas was big for us.”
Today Goodreads has 20,000 book clubs, 100,000 authors participating in the Goodreads Author Program, 908,000 followers on Twitter, and 25 million members. So I can’t help but go back and rethink some of the initial reaction to Amazon’s purchase:
@samatlounge: Congrats @otown on Amazon deal. You've made publishers weep, but who can blame you? #EndGame
I work at a university press and I did not cry. It was more of a shoulder-shrug reaction than weeping. Goodreads can be used to our advantage. Goodreads promotes books, we publish books; it’s a mini circle of book life.
@DonnLinn: Not to sound all crass and commercial, but the reason you do a startup these days is to get acquired.
I don’t know about that, but I think sometimes people are innovative, hard-working, and want to make a difference. The Chandlers wanted to build a website where they could see their friends’ book recommendations and discover good books. Goal accomplished.
@brokeandbookish: Amazon...really I'm flattered that you want to be all up in every part of my business on the interwebz but its just getting ex bf stalkerish
I’m 99% positive that Amazon only sees numbers and algorithms. And if they wanted to know more about you, they didn’t need Goodreads.
On the Goodreads “about us” page you can read a message from Otis Chandler. He describes Goodreads as “a place where you can see what your friends are reading and vice versa. You can create ‘bookshelves’ to organize what you've read (or want to read). You can comment on each other's reviews. You can find your next favorite book.”
I don’t think the Goodreads mission has changed; I think it has just grown in size. With 29 million reviews and counting, it would be hard not to discover your next favorite book.