So I’m sure you’ve seen the news that Amazon is buying/has bought Goodreads. I caught up with it on the various book-related sites I read – the main one being Goodreads itself. I was surprised the degree to which this created upset/anger/panic – or maybe that’s just because I read the feedback threads on GR. You really would think the world is going to end.
So I get that people feel betrayed. It’s less than a year since GR was forced to remove a lot of Amazon-sourced metadata from their site. Whilst this was reasonable in my opinion – they weren’t prepared to abide by Amazon’s API TOS, which would have meant not linking to other book vendors – it did mean that it created a lot of work for the site’s librarians, who are unpaid volunteers. So aside from the usual web 2.0 stuff about user content they quite literally had worked to make the site what it was.
Unfortunately for them they never noticed that Goodreads was always intended to be a commercial venture. Never noticed or didn’t care because they trusted Goodreads and it “felt like” a community?
For me Tim Spalding, founder of LibraryThing, a similarly purposed but different in tone and fiercely independent site, put it well:
Unless I’m quite mistaken, Goodreads was not hugely profitable as itself. With 30 employees, many of their engineers and in Los Angeles, he was probably burning upwards of $3 million/year on salary and benefits alone. When you do the advertising math, there’s no way he was making lots of money–not the sort of money that justifies a $150m valuation. (I don’t for a second believe the $1b number.) My guess is that he wasn’t even cash-positive. A number of people in the industry share my assessment. Unless the company itself is very profitable and very, very large, there’s no chance of going public, hence no way for the investors to cash out.
So he had to cash out. And he pretty much had to sell to Amazon.
So I think it was always inevitable they would cash out. I was one of those thinking they’d start selling through the site – which no doubt would have elicited some equally vociferous howls.
Personally I’m not fearful and I’m not jumping ship yet. I’ll wait and see. I am slightly sad that we don’t have a source of reviews and data about books that’s as big as Goodreads but also independent.