Hey, remember books? (Neil Gaiman/Titan Books)


Amazon has acquired Goodreads, the book-sharing social network used by millions of readers to recommend books, post favorite quotes and generally gab about what they are reading and what they hope to read next.

I should admit upfront that I am not among Goodreads’ 16 million users, but anything that intensifies Amazon’s stranglehold on reading is dubious news, at best. Sure, they didn’t ruin Zappos. But books are different than shoes. And increasingly, reading is just another activity available on proprietary Amazon devices.

As @JChristie on Twitter quipped: “Want to die? Follow the tweets about Amazon buying Goodreads, and take a drink for every “o” in the “noooooooooo”s.”

Some are excited by the announcement. But large numbers seem skeptical, given Amazon’s tendency to view authors as just more creators of a fun kind of content that can be sold very cheaply to create profits for Amazon.

The announcement on the Goodreads blog noted: “Goodreads will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site — the ability to track what you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors — and your reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads. And it’s incredibly important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even stone tablets.”

As an avid stone tablet reader, I appreciate the solicitude. And I appreciate that this is, after all, a business. People can get highfalutin’ in our discussions of literature. But you have to keep an eye on sales. As George Ade said, “After being turned down by numerous publishers, he decided to write for posterity.” Usually, it goes in that order.

Then again, this is not an age in which you should live if you like to feel confident about the future of books qua books or newspapers qua print newspapers or that “qua” is even something you should be using in a sentence like this. And the sentence “[Beloved Niche Site] is delighted to join the [Amazon/Facebook/Etc] Family” always sounds vaguely like “Earth is delighted to join the All-Devouring Malignant Black Hole That Just Appeared In The Neighborhood Family.” You get the sense that this is always where gravity was tending.

As user Anne delicately put it in a comment on the Goodreads announcement, “I’m an amazon customer and certainly don’t hate the company and I am happy that people who took the initiative to put goodreads together are being rewarded financially. That said, this news strikes me as sad. I liked/would prefer a community of readers not backed by someone with motives to a) unrelentingly mine my data and b) sell me stuff.

Again, not trying to vilify or begrudging a financial reward to anyone, but this is not cheering news.”

Yes, wouldn’t that be nice. But other than that, it’s great news!