Goodreads tells me I joined the site in December 2008 and that, weirdly, in 2009, 2011, and 2012, I added 70 books to the read shelf. (If I didn’t know myself better I’d think I was messing with the numbers!) I added older titles and then settled in to mostly keeping it up to date. I friended people I knew, some people I knew and didn’t friended me back, and I was fascinated to see what people were actually reading. I really enjoyed it and I’d been so proud to keep some of the Goodreads books in their database when they stopped using Amazon’s data!
And then last week Goodreads announced that Amazon had bought them. I was completely scunnered by the sale. Like Rob Spillman of Tin House I figure it’s kind of too late, Amazon have just bought the last 5 years of my reading history, but I’m deleting my account this week. (Already added my books to my LibraryThing account as a stopgap) I didn’t do it straight away as I wanted to think through my gut reaction of: “Oh No!” But a couple of days later, it’s still the same. So this week all the Goodreads widgets will be cut from the site. Through our distributor, we sell books through Amazon and in turn they’d like to run us and all other publishers into and under the ground for daring to publish books instead of all authors signing their horrible print contract. So for many years it has been our policy not to link to Amazon or (when I can keep all of them in mind, any of their many subsites, see next para) and the only time I pay for anything through Amazon is for Kickstarter.
Amazon own (bold = book related): Amazon Publishing, Amazon Web Services, Abebooks, Audible, Book Depository, BookSurge, BoxOfficeMojo, Brilliance Audio, CreateSpace, Diapers.com, Goodreads, IMDB, Lexcycle, 40% of Library Thing (through Abebooks—although this is apparently complicated), Mobipocket, Shelfari, Woot, Zappos. Etc.
Amazon positives: their data mining is intellectually fascinating. They give out tiny halo-effect grants to literary organizations (so that everyone has to pay lip service to them). Their BreakThrough Novel Award (which is now their in house publishing competition). They pay sales tax in a few states now. Jeff Bezos, as millionaires have always done, follows his own weird (Blue Origin) with his investments.
But. Amazon wants to be everything to everyone. Some people have suggested they want to kill off public libraries (because kids need tablets instead of storytime and parents don’t need any free places to take their kids . . .) They want to make the product (cup, book, sheets, cable, movie, whatever) and sell it to you. Instead of inefficient towns and shopping centers, they’d rather everyone ordered online and got stuff delivered to them and in the end it will be Amazon and the delivery company left standing.
Sounds utterly vapid and uninspiring to me.
We spend our time publishing books we love and trying to get them into the indie bookstores we love so that readers can find them there. It mostly works. We expect we’ll be doing it for a while.
And then there is temptation. On Metafilter Open Library was mooted as an alternative user George_Spiggott posted “I would seriously pitch in time and technical effort to building a new site that everyone could simply pick up and move to. Because that would be a frickin’ brilliant outcome. Especially if the ToS at signup committed the site to remain nonprofit and to have no exclusive marketing agreements.”
” … building a new community reading site with books, reviews, comments, forums, all the things we liked about Goodreads, but without the all-encompassing Univac behind it. To keep it independent I figure we should make it a $4.99 annual subscription built along the lines Flickr uses: you could add up to 500 books for free then the oldest ones would disappear (from public view, not to you) unless you subscribed. Maybe there could be other subscriber only features, not sure, the site would do best if people use it for a while for free. If you’re seriously interested in kicking this idea around, email me!”
Kickstarter might be the way to fund it: obviously we’d need to pay for data feeds, storage and usage, and coding, coding, coding. Again, Wikipedia: “In December 2007, the site had over 650,000 members and over 10,000,000 books had been added. As of July 2012, the site reported 10 million members, 20 million monthly visits, and 30 employees.” That’s a lot of data going back and forward.
Goodreads was seven years old, ancient!, and had a lot of bells and whistles and if we do take this on, the new site should get out the gate as an attractive site that’s worth joining early and taking part in.
What I’d love to do is kick the idea around some more, hear what readers want, and see if this seems possible for a small group of underfunded readers. Internets?