Goodreads "Joins the Amazon Family"


Pre-Rant Note: This post is merely an initial reaction to what I consider to be deeply distressing news about my favorite social networking website. The story to which I am reacting is still unfolding, and this is only a reaction to the information that has been made available at this time. A follow-up post is likely to appear at some future point, after more information is revealed and the actual effects of the situation are apparent.

As you may know, I'm a volunteer "Super-librarian" at Goodreads. That means I maintain the database of book records, and that I've been chosen by staff as one of the handful of people permitted to access certain editing functions of these records. It's a privilege and a responsibility that I've loved since Patrick Brown offered it to me in the summer of 2012, and one that I never dreamed of acquiring when I joined the website in April of 2011. For the last two years, I've sung the praises of Goodreads.

When they severed ties with Amazon and its API in early 2012, I was downright ecstatic. I'm no fan of Amazon or their policies, so I adored the fact that Goodreads was willing to sacrifice the API for their independence and integrity. Since the end of 2011, when Goodreads announced that we would be losing access to Amazon data, volunteer librarians worked tirelessly to compensate. We dug out our old books to fill in the missing details. We scoured library databases, publisher websites, and author sites for details left blank. We worked on this for months, and there are still thousands of books that need to be cleaned up. But we felt like we had accomplished something. We'd earned our independence, and we'd compensated for what was taken with lots of hard work.

Today I find out that I shouldn't have wasted my time. Today Goodreads "Joined the Amazon Family".

Having received the news several hours ago, I'm furious. Furious. All my hard work, all that sense of accomplishment, all that asserted independence? It's worth nothing now.

I'm a Superlibrarian at Goodreads because I want to support independent book companies. I want to support independent bookstores. I want to support Barnes and Noble. I want to support Smashwords. I do not want to support a company accused of trying to create a monopoly. And I will not maintain their database for free.

Of course, as I said, we only received the news several hours ago. I don't know what changes, if any, Amazon intends to inflict upon Goodreads. I don't know if they're going to retool the site to shill their merchandise. I don't know if the review policy is going to change. I don't know if the author program and author guidelines are going to change. I don't know if they're going to remove the purchase links to Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other bookseller sites. I don't know if they're going to dismantle the librarian program, or retool the groups, or alter the recommendations engine or the giveaway system.

What I do know is that I don't believe Otis Chandler when he says that "Amazon supports [Goodreads] continuing to grow...as an independent entity". I don't believe that Amazon will be able to keep their grubby hands off of the site to which I've contributed so many free hours of volunteer work. I don't believe that the site will maintain its integrity for longer than a year or two. I don't believe Amazon will appreciate what the vast army of Goodreads volunteers has done for the site's popularity, usability, and data quality.

Tonight, I don't believe I'm going to be sticking around.

For now, I'll be giving Goodreads the benefit of the doubt. I'm not going to jump ship immediately, as I've invested so much time and effort into the website.

What I am going to be doing is making daily backups of my Goodreads data. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for Amazon-esque shadiness such as mysteriously missing negative reviews. I'm going to be expecting Amazon to try to foist their pro-censorship, pro-business policies on us rather than Goodreads' long-held anti-censorship, pro-cataloging policies. I'm going to be on the lookout for Amazon trying to use my reviews, ratings, and shelvings to their advantage.

Most importantly, I'm going to be looking for an alternative website--one that has the integrity to say "no" to Amazon's piles of cash.

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