March 29, 2013

Amazon devours Goodreads and all of their crunchy Big Book Data


I’ll miss you, too, buddy. I’ll miss you, too.

Goodreads, the online tool for sharing book recommendations and falsely-prurient alarms about underage sexual roleplay, announced Thursday that they’ve been acquired by Amazon. Or rather, in an announcement on the site’s blog, co-founder and CEO Otis Chandler wrote that the seven year old website had “join[ed] the Amazon family.” Our regular readers will know that this is akin to claiming you’ve been adopted by your neighborhood sarlacc pit. To see Amazon as a family is a radical new understanding of corporate personhood, or at the very least pharmaceutical-grade optimism.

Amazon already owns similar gussied-up book-spreadsheet site Shelfari, as well as a minority stake in LibraryThing, acquired when they bought AbeBooks.

Goodreads is touting the move as a way for their 16 million users to sync their accounts with Kindles, something users undoubtedly have been looking to do for some time now. Russ Grandinetti, Amazon VP of Kindle Content, gave a series of interviews alongside Chandler after the announcement, and in each he stressed the benefit to Kindle owners. Beyond that, the real advantages of the deal would all seem to lie with Amazon which has just acquired an exhaustive dataset of reading behavior.

Laura Hazard Owens of PaidContent interviewed both men, and Chandler addressed that exact question with an Astaire-worthy softshoe routine:

“Goodreads is or will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon, so on one level, yes. Are things going to happen in the background without customers understanding it? I think the answer to that is no….We’ll make it very easy for someone to say, ‘Yeah, I’d love it if you could import all of my Amazon or Kindle purchases into my Goodreads shelf.’ We’ll make it very easy for people to do, but they’ll be aware of what’s happening.”

Users already have the ability to export their data from Goodreads, and they’ll continue to be able to do so.

The buy is particularly surprising, given Goodreads’ heartening move just last spring away from using the restrictive Amazon API for their book data to the slightly more indie bookseller friendly Ingram API. At the time, I myself and others took it as a sign of the site’s intentions to stand out as neutral ground in the ongoing online book retailer battles.

Indeed, one of the things that has long set Goodreads apart is the option for users to choose from a wide array of retailers when looking to purchase books through the site. As quoted in PW, Chandler said: “We don’t have any plans to change anything about the buy links in the short term, but in the long term we’re going to do what’s best for our users.”

Sources in both companies have remained quiet about the actual price tag on the deal, and Chandler was insistent that the company would remain independent under the ownership of Amazon and operate “how Zappos and IMDb are run.”

Online reaction to the news was swift, with debate on Twitter circling around not whether to delete Goodreads accounts, but the best practices for preserving your books database when doing so. Of course, with a user base 16 million strong, a few vocal defectors is unsurprising and no real risk to Goodreads.

The most striking statement about the whole deal (that is, the one that makes me feel as if I’ve been struck in the mouth by a two-by-four) came from Grandinetti himself, who said to Owens, “Our mentality here is to first do no harm.”


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.