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Off the Shelves: Goodreads buyout, dream or nightmare?

POSTED: April 7, 2013 1:30 a.m.

The big news in the literary world this week has been Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, the world’s largest book sharing and recommendations website.

It has 16 million members, who have added more than 530 million books to their online "shelves" and written more than 23 million reviews.

Founders of Goodreads, Otis and Elizabeth Chandler, said on the Goodreads blog: "We truly could not think of a more perfect partner for Goodreads as we both share a love of books and an appreciation for the authors who write them."

Reactions by readers, reviewers and bloggers to this merger run the gamut.

While many Goodreads members support the change — enjoying access to Goodreads via the Kindle — others have blasted Goodreads with outrage and criticism. They fear their online book chats and reviews will be affected by Amazon’s customer tracking system and Amazon will soon monopolize Internet book selling and sharing.

Of course, some believe the merger won’t change anything.

Quoted by Calvin Reid in Publishers Weekly on March 29, one Twitter follower pointed out: "All the same people who threaten to quit Facebook will threaten to quit Goodreads. 1.6 (percent) of these people will follow through."

While I am inclined to believe this last point of view, it got me thinking about how we view mainstream businesses impacting independent retailers.

Many of us claim we don’t like big companies drowning out small business — the implementation of "Small Business Saturday" after "Black Friday" during the holiday season is a reflection of that mentality.

However, the other day I saw an article written by Penny C. Sansevieri, author and CEO of Marketing Experts Inc., saying she believes major book publishers should step in to save independent book retailers from going out of business.

This may sound like a noble gesture, if publishers donated money to help dwindling businesses without any expectation of compensation.

But it is only logical for a larger company to purchase a smaller company that is doing well to share in the benefits, not because of altruism. Suffering book retailers who do not merge with another company — for example, Borders — will most likely go bankrupt.

So, where is the happy medium? Would we truly prefer small book retailers try to tough it out alone, keeping their independence but risking termination?

Or do we want big business to step in to save the little fish, even if it means the little fish gets consumed by the big fish?

Or are those who take such black-and-white sides of the argument missing the point?

Dan Blank said on the Huffington Post blog: "I would simply ask that they focus more on the things that haven’t changed, and will never change: why we write; why we read; and how we come together because of it."

Rather than worrying about who owns our favorite book sites and online communities, we should do our best to maintain the positive experiences of the communities and continue to make the best use of the sites to keep the love of literature alive and thriving.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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