Firstly, the public service announcement: I'm leaving Goodreads and moving all my reviews and book lists to LibraryThing.
The links on my blog have been changed. If you follow my reviews (or I follow yours), you can continue to follow me at http://www.librarything.com/profile/annemlanderson. I hope I'll find several of you there--do share your pages in the comments.
I try not to get too political on this blog. I don't want to alienate readers. Also, I don't think most of you really care about my politics. And especially when my politics come to books, writing, and reading, they get pretty esoteric.
But this is too important for me not to explain.
For those of you who haven't heard the news, Amazon has bought Goodreads.
Why is this a problem?
Let me tell you a story. Last fall, Phil and I were visiting some friends, and as bookish people, got to talking about e-readers. I made some off-hand comment like, "Well, as a writer, I can't support Amazon, so I've got a Nook." And my friends were truly baffled. One said something like, "But I thought Amazon was good for authors."
"What?" I said.
"They give a bigger percentage of book sales to authors than other companies."
"That's for self-published books," I told him. I think that's what he was talking about--that Amazon (as well as other companies) lets a self-published author take a higher percentage of their profits than traditional publishing allows. I proceeded to explain that whatever a traditionally published author makes on a book is stipulated in her contract. The retailer is irrelevant.
End of conversation, we moved on, probably talked about board games, food, TV, politics.
But this brief exchange has been bugging me ever since. These friends are intelligent, politically active people. They're major readers. They shop locally, they visit their nearby farmer's market. Yet they had no idea why Amazon could be problematic. In fact, they thought exactly the opposite!
So that's why I'm blogging today. Not because I'm hoping to change anyone's mind, or because I had no idea what else to blog about today, and especially not because I think it will change Amazon's behavior. But I think people need to understand, even if they don't agree, why I don't own a Kindle, why I don't buy books from Amazon, and why I even avoid Amazon's webpage.
Amazon has a massive influence in the book world. They own Abebooks (and therefore, a minority portion of LibraryThing, which is also partially owned by Abebooks). They own the Book Depository. They own Shelfari and Goodreads. They own the former children's publishing house Marshall Cavendish (now called Amazon Children's Publishing).
Apparently, Amazon has been on a path for some years to buy out all their competition. This means they are influential enough, and rich enough, to manipulate the market. They can undersell their competitors. They can undervalue books.
They can also mine and use a substantial amount of data to find out what people are buying and loving.
But even more frightening for me, they can control books' distribution, accessibility (see here and here), and even discussion.
But Anne, isn't this just good business?
Well, yeah. And Amazon's really good at business. They've got great customer service. An excellent, searchable database. Their prices are cheap, they're easy to use. Even I buy things on Amazon (though never books). And I find it hard to begrudge anyone else's use of the site.
But books are knowledge. They're opinions, they're debate, they're history, they're facts, they're stories that can change the world. I don't want one company, however benevolent, to own all of that.
That's why Amazon scares me. And that's why I've left Goodreads. Will it make a difference? I doubt it. Amazon will probably subsume me at some point. And some day (hopefully!) I'll be published, and my publisher will want me to have an author page on Amazon. Maybe at Goodreads, too. That's the way the marketing world works.
But sometimes we personally need to take a stand. This is mine.
For another, similar perspective, check out Rob Spillman's article on Salon.
So... anyone else at Library Thing?