Goodreads–the social networking site that allows authors and readers to rank, discuss and share books–has agreed to be purchased by Amazon, the world’s largest book seller. What prompted the sale is likely the fact that Goodreads was exploring opening a bookstore. Amazon already owns Shelfari one of Goodreads’ competitors, which means there is no longer an independent social networking website focused on books that is large enough to matter.
As long as Goodreads was independent, readers could trust the sales channel. Now despite the protests of Goodreads’ CEO Otis Chandler, the trust element is gone. Integration with Kindle will surely influence reader purchases in favor of Amazon’s sales channel as opposed to Barnes & Noble or ITunes.
With somewhere between 12 to 16 million members, Goodreads’ book rankings are not skewed by small numbers. My fear is that Amazon sales considerations will drive readers towards books that make money for Amazon, distorting rankings and shutting out competitors.
For authors, it means one has no choice but to adhere to whatever rules Amazon demands you play by. Either do things Amazon’s way or your books won’t be listed, won’t get reviews and rankings, won’t be purchased.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m happy Amazon exists as it allows me as a self-published author to sell my books to people who’d never find them. I even sell used books on Amazon. It is not good, however, when the dominant player crushes even the hint of competition, raising doubt about the independence of its book ranking and sales methods. Competition is the lifeblood of innovation, growth and prosperity. Let’s hope someone someplace is working on an idea that down the road will give Amazon a run for its money.