Amazon Buys Goodreads: What Does It Mean for Authors and Readers?

In an age where authors increasingly own the connection to readers, does it matter that Amazon bought Goodreads? What exactly will change in the day to day life of writers and readers? Well, nothing.
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In an age where authors increasingly own the connection to readers, does it matter that Amazon bought Goodreads? What exactly will change in the day to day life of writers and readers? Well, nothing.

Amazon is about discoverability, and the ecommerce system tied to it. Buying Goodreads gives Amazon more data about reader behavior, authors, and books. For a site that sells pretty much all other goods (need a lawnmower or diapers?), I think it is actually good that Amazon continues to show books and reading as a priority.

Writing and reading are inherently about creation: the author creating the work, and it sparking ideas and experiences for readers. It is interactive more than apps or videogames proclaim, but the interaction is less obvious: taking place in the minds, the actions, and across the lifetimes of readers. I don't think about some app I deleted 8 months ago, but I still think about Martin Amis' books. His stories still shape my perspective and to a degree, my actions.

Working in publishing, I hear the daily memes of the "battles" taking place in the industry. Some are pushing to innovate, others are reinforcing their walls, in a protective stance.

And yet, we still write. We still read.

In the past few months, I keep seeing author Hugh Howey being referenced as the present of what it means to be a successful writer. And for as much success as he has had on his own, and now partnering with large corporations, what I see is someone deeply engaged with two things that matter more:
  • Writing: His website has a writing progress meter that shows you how many words he has completed on his four most recent books.
  • Engaging with readers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, his blog, on his recent book tour and other places.

The media talks about how he earned seven figures last year via his writing, and yet, he still shows up at bookstores, still ships books to readers, and still shows up online to chat.

Why does it not really matter if Amazon buys Goodreads, because in the end, authors have no more, and no fewer ways, of creating great writing, connecting with readers online and in person, and experiencing books not as a commodity, but a primary way of experiencing the world, our place within it, and even outside of it.

Wired Business staff writer Marcus Wohlsen concludes that, "Writers can no longer afford to escape Amazon's gravity. And now, with the takeover of Goodreads, readers won't be able to either."

Hugh Howey reflects on the opposite side of that argument:

Most of the people in the cities I visited strolled by bookstores without glancing inside. Most of the people in the airports weren't reading. We are fighting amongst ourselves while the real battle is ignored. There are more ways to entertain oneself now. Ways that consume less effort, time, and money. You can read Facebook all day for free (internet and cell-phones being as much a necessity as power and water these days). You can watch TV, play videogames, walk your dog, or a billion other things. Our war is to get more people reading (and writing, but that's more my war, I think). Amazon and Goodreads have been fighting that war. If anyone thinks the fighting has been between them, I don't know that they've looked up from their books and studied the landscape.

I agree with Hugh here, and am less enthralled by the stories of seven-figure deals, and more on a writer creating work that is meaningful to readers, and the ways they find to come together because of it.

I'll end with Laura Hazard Owen's interview with Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler and Amazon's VP of Kindle content Russ Grandinetti about the potential effects of this deal.

When I consider what this means to writers and readers, 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.


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