Amazon Buys Goodreads—Everybody Panic?

Last week’s big news was Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, the site where 16 million users (up from 12 million in 2012) share book reviews and find good books to read. Reactions have been mixed, with many raising the spectre of an increased Amazon monopoly why others wonder why no one bought Goodreads sooner.

The purchase makes absolute sense from Amazon’s point of view: Goodreads helps books get discovered, while Amazon’s platform has been weak in that regard. Goodreads is a very active, engaged social network and is highly trusted by its users. Amazon…less so.

Setting aside the broader question of how making the dominant industry player even more dominant will affect publishing as a whole, there are some practical issues for authors to consider. Is the acquisition good or bad news for authors? That depends.

It could be great news if Goodreads reviews are rolled into Amazon and help your books get discovered on the largest online book retailer. Integrating Goodreads’ recommendation engine into the Kindle itself is one of Amazon’s biggest priorities, and that too would be very good for authors.

On the other hand, even though Amazon assures us that Goodreads will continue to operate independently, is likely that sometime soon the site will remove the buttons allowing readers to purchase books from a variety of online retailers. (Does anybody know the breakdown of Goodreads-inspired purchases?)

More troubling to me is the question of where those Goodreads reviews will be accessible. Right now, both Kobo and Sony are able to feature Goodreads reviews in their book descriptions. This flow of metadata is incredibly valuable to authors, and made it all the more important to have an author presence on Goodreads. But if Amazon shuts off the flow of Goodreads reviews to other sites, authors (and those smaller retailers) are instantly more impoverished.

Amazon is a cutthroat competitor and relentless in its pursuit of long-term strategic advantages. While it has been a great boon for authors, it will continue to help authors only to the extent that doing so aids Amazon’s continued domination of publishing. The fact that no publisher made a bid for Goodreads before this illustrates just how likely that domination is to continue for the next few years.

Panic is never an appropriate response to having incomplete information and even less control over a situation. The Amazon-Goodreads story will play out over the next few weeks and months. It is quite likely that the changes will be a mixed bag from an author’s perspective.

Meanwhile, the best defense is a good offense. Keep writing great books, make them available everywhere, use every tool at hand to reach readers, and for heaven’s sake give people a reason to connect with you directly through the one piece of online real estate you do have control over: your own website.

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