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Amazon Buys Goodreads, Expands Their eBook Empire

GoodreadsAmazon announced today that they had bought another book-focused social network, Goodreads.

This 16 million member strong community is based in San Francisco and was founded in 2007 by Otis Chandler. It’s built on the idea of encouraging members to create bookshelves of titles they’ve read, would like to read, and so on. Readers can rate books, write reviews, and discuss the details of the titles they liked.

It’s not clear yet exactly why Amazon bought Goodreads, but the most obvious reason would be the Goodreads Recommendation Engine. Goodreads has been building this engine since well, since it launched, but they doubled down on their efforts in 2011 with the acquisition of That site was integrated into Goodreads and ever since then has been the basis for the Goodreads Recommendation Engine.

It is also possible that Amazon wants to gain access to the more than 23 million book reviews that have been posted by Goodreads members, as well as the book summaries they may have written. That would make a lot of sense for Amazon, and it is similar to one of the ways that Amazon has used Shelfari. Amazon has drawn on the book summaries that have been created by Shelfari members and used them for the X-Ray feature which Amazon launched with the Kindle Touch in the Fall of 2011.

But no matter how much Amazon gains from Goodreads, it comes at a loss of the site’s reputation. The news may only be a few hours old but there has already been pushback from users. The response from twitter leans heavily towards the negative, and some users are already deleting their accounts.

This is a shame, because until yesterday Goodreads had enjoyed a good reputation for being a neutral party. It wasn’t under the influence of any retailer of publisher, and it even broke ties with Amazon in early 2012 when Goodreads decided that Amazon’s rules for accessing Amazon’s book data API were too restrictive.

But as popular as the site may be, Goodreads is not without its issues. After a number of conflicts in the Summer of 2012 between authors and their reader-reviewers, Goodreads laid down a new review policy that sided with authors.

This focus on authors over readers could be one of the reasons that Amazon bought Goodreads, but that is unlikely.

Goodreads is far larger than at least one of the other 2 book community sites owned by Amazon. LibraryThing (Amazon has owned a 40% share since 2006) has a membership count around 1.6 million, but Shelfari (acquired by Amazon in 2008)  has not disclosed their membership numbers – not in any location I can find.

Edit: It occurs to me that Amazon also owns a 4th social network, though few may think of it that way. That network is focused on the Kindle.

I wonder if the lack of info on Shelfari membership might be a sign of Goodreads' future. Goodreads is known for sharing insights into their community in blog posts and conference presentations, but now that they are owned by Amazon they could be be as close-mouthed as their corporate parent.

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The Rodent 28 March, 2013 um 7:44 pm

To me the most obvious reason for Amazon to buy GR is so they can re-purpose a formerly independent, neutral, book-centered social network into another wholly-owned showroom in which they can push sales, increase monopoly, and control spin. It could be a benign take-over, but I doubt that. These things are always really about money, aren’t they?

fjtorres 28 March, 2013 um 9:50 pm

Or it could be a preemptive move to keep a competitor from buying it to improve their mediocre reviews.
Goodreads says they’re going to staff up so they’re not buying them to shut them down. Time will tell what Amazon is up to.

Nate Hoffelder 28 March, 2013 um 10:01 pm

Amazon is fond of preemptive moves, yes (look at how they buy successful niche retailers). They have the money for it, too.

Robert Nagle 28 March, 2013 um 11:16 pm

What competitors?

Nate Hoffelder 28 March, 2013 um 11:24 pm

None, really, but that is mainly because Amazon is careful to keep potential competitors from getting an advantage (see Stanza, Waterstones, and now Goodreads).

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carmen webster buxton 28 March, 2013 um 9:55 pm

Interesting. I really do wonder about what will happen with Shelfari. At the bottom of the product page for books on Amazon, right below the reviews, there is a link that the author or any reader with a Shelfari account can use to add "book extras" through Shelfari. These include lists of characters, places, organizations, etc. The data is created and edited on Shelfari but visible on Amazon. Will that all go away or maybe it will be merged into Goodreads somehow?

fjtorres 28 March, 2013 um 10:18 pm

The Shelfari data is what feeds the X-RAY feature.
They’ll likely keep both.

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Name (required) 29 March, 2013 um 3:35 am

Remember what happened after they acquired MobiPocket Reader? Just sayin' …

Nate Hoffelder 29 March, 2013 um 8:36 am

That’s not the same.

Mobipcoket was bought for the tech, something that can be broken up and reused. Goodreads was bought for the community. You can’t disassemble a community without destroying it.

flyingtoastr 29 March, 2013 um 8:48 am

How quickly we forget.

Amazon buys Shelfari, mines all the user created data (without consent) to create X-Ray, then promptly lets the site languish unattended. You really think GR will be any different?

Nate Hoffelder 29 March, 2013 um 10:09 am

Amazon bought Shelfari in 2008 and didn’t mine it until 2011. And the site is still operating.

flyingtoastr 29 March, 2013 um 8:26 pm

It’s operating the same way Fictionwise was operating under BN.

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Trish 30 March, 2013 um 6:32 am

Bummer. The two main reasons I totally love Goodreads are the ability to see ALL of my books simply and easily in one shot and the book recommendations that weren’t "a sales push"….

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