I started a post about the recent aquisition by Amazon of Goodreads, but then I kept spending too much time screwing around finding links and whatnot. Here’s what I tossed off as a response to a facebook post by a friend asking me what I think of the whole mess. This was the article she sent me.
So, yes, that article is a pretty great capture of the general panic about Goodreads within Goodreads. People are exporting data like crazy, joining LibraryThing (which smartly has offered a free membership all weekend) and there have been (at least) a couple of account deletions, some by very very old and entrenched users.
The biggest concern is that Amazon will begin enforcing their review standards on Goodreads, and if they did it would be fairly catastrophic to the community. First, Goodreads has never censored for profanity, and I would lose a sizable percentage of my reviews if they did. I can completely understand a commercial venture keeping the cussing out of product reviews – it’s like a bookstore not dropping the bomb on an endcap. But Goodreads has been primarily a social network, and the idea that it could shift its focus to shilling makes a lot of people nervous. Facebook makes a lot of terrible terrible choices, but policing for cussing isn’t one of them.
Like other social networks, Goodreads has also never instituted down-voting on reviews. It isn’t social to let semi-anonymous people troll you with a click; they actually have to type out that they hate you and your opinion. And it is far too easy for people to build down-voting campaigns against unpopular opinions, specific users, or whatever, as various Amazon scandals have shown. (It seems every day that an author/reviewer/maniac and his/her cronies goes to war against an Amazon reviewer, and down-voting makes that all too easy.)
And finally, Amazon’s treatment of author reviews is totally bizarre. In response to the revelation that a large minority of Amazon reviews were bought and paid for by someone (publisher, author, whomever), Amazon cracked down on author reviews and reviews by friends of the author, in a way that hugely missed the point. I have zero problem with reviews written by authors, either of their own work, or of other writers in their genre. They can be stupid or done badly, but as long as there is disclosure, who really cares? And, sometimes people in the field can assess something in ways that wouldn’t occur to the average reader. Traditional reviewing platforms have always relied on author reviews for this very reason. Plus, you’re dealing with people who know how to write. Sure, you can totally get bullshit blurbcraft and friends scratching friends’ backs, but, uh, hasn’t that been an aspect of publishing since cuneiform was invented? I have a large number of GR friends who are also published authors (who run from the traditionally published to hard core Smashwords silliness) and silencing them for being published once makes no sense. Writers read.
All this said, I don’t think Amazon is stupid enough to institute any of these sweeping changes, certainly not right away, and certainly not if they really do keep CEO Otis around in a meaningful role. And in terms of technology, I think all of Otis’s apple-cheeked exclamations about how this will make everything better is probably accurate. The Goodreads search engine is embarrassingly bad. Goodreads has really dippy server management, and the site fails to function reliably on a regular basis. Amazon will probably clean up all of the bad technology.
But on a deeper level, I think the sale of Goodreads to Amazon signals the very real end of the big six publishing houses. They’ve been under siege for a long time, and haven’t been as terrible as the music industry in their response to new media, blah blah blah. It’s not going to happen tomorrow or anything, but I can understand some of the doom-crying because the writing is so very much on the wall now. In neon. Also, Barnes & Noble is fucked. So, so fucked. Which honestly depresses me.