Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why I'm leaving Goodreads

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?


  1. I asked my husband the other day, aren't there laws about monopoly? I mean diversity must be good for business, right? He said it's only a monopoly if they're trying to keep prices high ... and Amazon is keeping prices low. Amazon buying Goodreads gave me such a bad feeling ... I applaud your stance. It's tough to know what to do. Should authors like me make a stand by disengaging with Amazon? What would we achieve? I don't know the answer to that... andI haven't had the courage to find out.

    1. I'd been wondering the same thing about a monopoly, Candy, and found a similar answer, but wasn't sure it was right... Good to know that IS how it works! Interesting... I guess the original writers of the law didn't take this sort of issue into account.

      It's even more difficult for published authors who do have to work in collaboration with their publishers. I would love to see more published authors take a stand, but on the flip side, that could be a dangerous career move, especially in these days where Amazon or other stores at a moment's notice will threaten not to carry certain books.

      Anyway, thanks for all your thoughts on this. Good to know I'm not alone.

  2. It is disconcerting because this is about the free forum of opinions about books, and seeing the consolidation leaves a certain dystopian feel.
    Amazon has been bad for bookstores, and I love bookstores. But Amazon has, to be fair, made self-publishing more affordable and also more viable to really market. To me this is not a black & while matter. Nothing simple...
    I do wish the owners of Goodreads didn't sell to the only other major amateurs’ review site, i.e. Amazon. But here too- it was their choice.
    And it is your choice to move to another site. Let's hope it keeps Amazon's share of Library Thing at one fifth, which I think is where it sands. Better yet- start your own and choose to remain independent...

    1. On the flip side, I imagine it was an amazing offer from Amazon--profitable and high-profile. No, nothing is simple. Though I would argue self-publishing would have gotten easier whether Amazon was around or not.

      Yeah, I think the scary thing is that there's surely more buyouts to come from Amazon.

  3. I had no idea they owned Book Depository as well! I know lots of people who shop there, thinking they are "avoiding" Amazon.

    My ereader options in my country, in order to read books in English, were and are limited, so I do have a Kindle. But I am always aware of the fact that I'm being "profiled" by Amazon and wish I didn't have to choose between reading in English, or not at all (which would often be the case for me).

    I was on Goodreads briefly but I deleted my account because there seemed to be so much vitriol .... I'll have to check out Library Thing.

    1. Yeah, Amazon bought the Book Depository about two years ago--I was quite devastated when that happened, too, as I also used to stop there to avoid Amazon!

      As an expat living abroad you totally have my permission (as if you need it!) to have a Kindle! The only way I could make my Nook work abroad was to have an American credit card with a US address. Amazon certainly has the market on convenience.

      Goodreads' nastiness never really bothered me, but I have heard that LT is much more grown-up. So far I haven't seen a single post with gifs! ;)

  4. It really is so tricky. I get worried whenever any company has too much control, but at the same time, it's pretty much impossible to be an author and avoid Amazon. I'm on LibraryThing, too, though I must say that I don't find it as easy to use as Goodreads.

    1. No, LT does feel a little clunky and beta-looking. Though with each new version, it seemed Goodreads got a little less intuitive, too.

      You authors have my full sympathy... I really do think you're in a position where you have to play nice with Amazon. It's truly awkward.

  5. amazon owns 40% of libarything

  6. Okay. As I said, in the paragraph starting "Amazon has a massive influence in the book world," Abebooks owns a minority portion in LibraryThing, and Abebooks is owned by Amazon. So yes, technically, Amazon owns LibraryThing, though LT has disputed that 40% figure you quoted. I think this perfectly demonstrates that it's REALLY hard in the book world to be 100% Amazon free. LibraryThing seems to be an independently-minded, book-loving place, which Amazon has no say-so in, so it's been a good fit for me. Obviously, if this were to change, I'd have to find a new home.


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