November 30, 2017

Amazon takes another step toward ruining Goodreads


In 2006, Otis Chandler had a great train of thought. It went something like this:

And thus, Goodreads was born. Bootstrapping and coding much of the website himself, Chandler quickly assembled book information, comment engines, and (most importantly) users for the social book-talk platform. It was small, scrappy, and innovative. It was publisher- and store- neutral. It was independent and fun. Then, in 2013, Amazon bought it.

Since then, there have been changes to Goodreads, but they’ve been minor — the primary “buy” button on a book’s page, for instance, invariably links to Amazon. But bigger changes have been happening across the book internet — the reach and power that come with Amazon’s heavy purse have crippled all kinds of start-ups — and the ones Amazon couldn’t overtake, it simply acquired. This quaint LifeHacker article Jason Fitzpatrick wrote in 2010, for instance, now reads as a list of companies owned by Amazon (except for GetGlue, which became tvtag at the start of 2014, and was belly-up by year’s end.)

With minimal or no competition, Amazon acts in its monopolistic best interest, which hurts other businesses in the short run, and all of us in the long run. This week, a press release has announced latest iteration of this: Goodreads will start charging publishers for book giveaways on the site.

For the traditional giveaway, publishers will be charged $119. This, of course, is on top of the significant costs the publisher incurs just by producing a book and giving copies away for free. It might not seem like much, but it’ll inevitably end up diminishing the discoverability of books with smaller budgets, including those from indie publishers already struggling to get the word out.

Beyond that, for $599, a publisher (or author) can buy placement on Goodreads’ well-trafficked giveaways page, which lists all currently running giveaways.

Changes like these—and no doubt there’ll be more like them to come—change the nature of Goodreads. Using fees to decide what user content is available will inevitably mean Goodreads ceases to be an open social platform. (And yes, a giveaway is publisher-generated user content.) The literary community thrives on these giveaways, which prompt early reading and engagement from the user base.

If that argument doesn’t sway you, the idea that Amazon will continue raking in fees and controlling content should. It’s been their business model all along. No Goodreads user benefits from these changes, and publishers will get gouged. It’ll just result in fewer giveaways on the platform — especially from the kinds of small publishers whose early participation made Goodreads so attractive to Amazon in the first place.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.