So far, the official press releases and arranged interviews about Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads have had a chance to make their way to the news front. An equal number of readers, if not more, have taken to social media to share their concerns and criticisms. But one surprising response has come from industry insider Mark Coker, the CEO and founder of Smashwords. Coker responded to several questions from GoodEReader about what this may mean for publishers, authors, and reading consumers.
When asked about how a deal like this stands to have an impact on the all-important status of book discovery, Coker felt that this was actually a positive opportunity for for book fans.
“This is a brilliant acquisition for Amazon, for a few reasons,” explained Coker. “It allows Amazon to forge closer relationships with customers and indie authors alike. This is important, because customers and indie authors ARE the future of publishing. In customer and author-recruitment, Amazon just gained an advantage. It prevents Goodreads from falling into the hands of a competitor. It gives Amazon a multi-year advantage in discoverability. Between Amazon and Goodreads, I don’t think any other retailer will have access to such a depth of discoverability information. It means Amazon has better data by which to match readers with books they want to read, and better data for identifying books that deserve merchandising promotion. It means Amazon will have better data to make customers happy, and better data to sell more books, which makes authors and publishers happy. Goodreads controls the eyeballs of millions of readers, so these are eyeballs Amazon can start funneling in the direction of Amazon. I see a lot of opportunity for Goodreads to integrate Amazon buylinks everywhere, and the opportunity for Amazon to integrate Goodreads reviews and social aspects of Goodreads into Amazon.”
One of the key concerns readers have had at both Amazon and Goodreads, and will undoubtedly continue to cause concern under the new partnership, is the validity of book reviews in a climate where accusations have been hurled about paid reviews, trolls, and worse. Coker actually expressed optimism that by working together, Amazon and Goodreads would actually support the opportunity for genuine reviewing.
“This is a win for both Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t have any criticism for either of them on the reviews front. Since they’re two of the most popular sites for book discovery, it means they’re going to be the biggest targets of those who try to game the reviews. If anything, Amazon will now have more data to draw upon, which will give them a better ability to detect, isolate and remove the gamers. For example, if a book averages 3 stars with 100 reviews at Goodreads, and a swarm of 20 5-star reviews come in at Amazon, they’ll know something’s amiss because the Goodreads data suggests that’s NOT a 5-star book.”
Coker’s most supportive reaction, however, was reserved for consumers and readers who may not be quite as optimistic about Amazon’s buyout as other entities might be. After all, some of the more instantaneous criticisms of the news were that Amazon is once again building up its “evil empire” status by buying up one of the most well-known book discovery sites.
“On the immediate front, I think we’ll see some changes. Sony and Kobo are in a tough bind, because they use Goodreads reviews. Goodreads, a trusted partner, has now become Goodreads the fox in the hen house. There’s no way to sugar-coat the gravity of their problem. These retailers have lost control of their reviews. It means Amazon owns these reviews, and any branding benefit Amazon’s competitors give Goodreads – or any valuable customers they turn on to Goodreads – only benefits the one company (Amazon) who’s working so hard to put these very retailers out of business. These retailers need to quickly wean themselves off of Goodreads. It won’t be easy, because without Goodreads, they’ll have a lot of books with few or no reviews. They’ll have weaker discoverability. Every day that Kobo and Sony continue with Goodreads is another day they help Amazon’s discoverability data while neglecting their own.
“Amazon wins either way. If Sony and Kobo stay on, they benefit Amazon. If they drop Goodreads, the breadth and quality of their reviews will diminish, which means their ability to match customers with the right books diminishes, which means Amazon wins again.
“Luckily for Apple and B&N, they own their own reviews.
“Longer term, we’ll see tighter integration between Goodreads and Amazon. We’ll see Amazon begin to squeeze out competing buylinks to other retailers. It’s inevitable that Amazon will start neutering or disadvantaging the buy links to their competitors. If they keep them, they’ll probably add a toll over and above the normal affiliate relationships. This means Amazon stands to gain an ever-increasing share of each book dollar’s pie, even if the books are sold at Amazon competitors.
From the perspective of authors who benefit from Goodread’s discovery, these authors will probably see increased integration with KDP, and possibly increased incentives to enroll their books in KDP Select, Amazon’s exclusive program. Imagine, for example, if KDP Select authors were offered increased discoverability at Goodreads as a perk for KDP Select enrollment. This could further tilt the playing field in Amazon’s favor, and hobble competing retailers’ ability to attract books from indie authors.
“So today is a great day for Amazon, and a well-deserved reward for the incredible team at Goodreads. But for Amazon’s competing retailers, it’s not a happy day.
“The acquisition may also cause Amazon’s competitors to reevaluate their own merger and acquisition strategy as it pertains to discoverability, and customer and author recruitment. I’ve got to think that B&N, Apple and Kobo are wishing they had snagged Goodreads first, if only to keep them away from Amazon.”