Social Media in the Age of Amazon

I began and abandoned a Goodreads account when I started reading for my doctoral program’s qualifying exams. My notes and my seemingly slow progress were too personal to share even with the handful of friends who used it; I was not ready to admit to anyone outside of my program that we don’t read every book on the exam list from cover to cover. But I started a new account two years ago when I was gifted a Kindle and found myself suddenly reading for pleasure again. I wanted to show people the books I was reading, and talk about them, and sometimes read about them to stay in those worlds a little longer. I found LibraryThing a little too cluttered with information and too card-cataloguey in presentation for this purpose, but soon became a regular user of Goodreads my second time around. Some people call Goodreads “Facebook for books,” but I enjoy most of those elements: I like cataloguing my recent life in books; I like online communities; I like receiving likes and comments for my book reviews, which are often the only way I can communicate about books I’ve read, since most of my peers don’t read the same books I do. 

With Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, I have to reexamine what I want out of this kind of social media. I feel uneasy about this acquisition for a number of reasons (not least because we are all calling it an acquisition, not an alliance, which it obviously is not). In no particular order:

  • I had already been feeling that Goodreads was getting a little too plugged in–for example, automatically friending me with people I know on Facebook without clearing it with me first. I’m a firm believer in opt-in social media linkage–I want to decide to link my blog to my Twitter and my Twitter to my Facebook; I don’t want those platforms to make decisions for me, leaving me to either go along with it or opt out (which, in the example above, would mean unfriending friends whose lives I enjoy following on Facebook but whose bookshelves I don’t care to see.) And Amazon is notorious for info-grabbing and -sharing. For one example: several of the feminist blogs I read are hilariously populated with litterbox ads this week since I looked up the reviews for a new litterbox last week.
  • Relatedly, the acquisition would give Amazon information about the books I buy not on Amazon, which includes nearly all of my books that aren’t e-books. I’m not really into giving Amazon more ways to track my patterns of consumption. I doubt it would even refine Amazon’s ability to recommend new books to me, since Goodreads isn’t a good guesser either.
  • If I continue my Goodreads account after it is acquired by Amazon, that would pull my carefully worded book reviews into a rougher and wilder comment section than I am accustomed to. Goodreads’ population is a gentler, more literary people than one finds mostwheres on the internet; that’s why I like it.
  • I also regularly link to Goodreads on my blogs: if a reader is curious about a book I mention and wants to know more, I want to link them to an informational page, not a purchasing page. If I did link to a purchasing page, I would not link to Amazon; I would research and choose to support a smaller bookseller whose values I can deal with.
  • And there lies the rub. As a voracious consumer of books, I am a frequent Amazon user. My Kindle transformed my reading habits and reignited a passion for reading that had, honestly, gotten a little ground down by my doctoral program. Amazon’s business model is consumer-focused, and it works. But as a publisher, I have an insider view of how difficult and strangling Amazon can be for a small press. I can imagine and sympathize with the challenges Amazon presents to small booksellers–even big booksellers, as we well know. I appreciate the services that Amazon provides, but I can’t in good conscience support any business endeavor that extends its long-armed octopoid reach.

But if I choose to opt out of Goodreads for good (all puns intended), the path isn’t easy. I want the following features from a social media platform that focuses on books:

  • I want to keep track, for myself, of the books I read and want to read.
  • I want other people to people to see my booklists and I want to see the lists of people I search or friend (if they make those lists viewable).
  • I want to be able to give and receive likes and comments.
  • I want to be able to create and maintain book groups or communities.
  • I want a book info page, not a book order page, that I can link on my blogs.
  • It’d be nice to enjoy the occasional perks of interacting with authors and participating in contests, but that’s definitely icing and not cake.

The only platform I know of that offers all of those features is. . . Goodreads. Further, if I cancel my Goodreads account, I may not be able to transfer all my carefully written reviews, my lists and likes, the group I created to combine food scholars’ knowledge of food books.

But I’m still going to try a few things out. Book Riot, who has been all over this transaction as soon as it became public, offers a list of 12 Alternatives to Goodreads; of them, BookLikes seems to have the most approval, and BookLamp sounds intriguing as well. Some of these services allow users to import lists from other sites, which would be helpful. I’d be curious to hear from other readers what they use or have tried. 

Related reading:

WSJ: Amazon’s Goodreads Acquisition Triggers Backlash

The Washington Post: Why Amazon Bought Goodreads

Book Riot: Readers & Publishing Industry Pros Talk About the Amazon Goodreads Acquisition

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