Amazon and Goodreads: Marriage Made In Heaven?

Yesterday Goodreads announced it’s been acquired by Amazon. This is big news in the publishing world.  Here’s a few of my thoughts.

Publishing insiders are predictably on the doom and gloom side, and, predictably, missing what I think is the key point, and in a dangerous way, too.

I’ve been hearing that Amazon really bought GR to solve its “discoverability problem” or, even, assertions that Amazon’s algorithms are lacking. That’s looking at the problem from a dangerously narrow perspective.

Discoverability is a universal problem. EVERYONE trying to sell a book to someone has this problem. Amazon’s algorithms, I’m willing to bet, are better than Barnes&Noble’s, and I know they’re WAY better than Kobo’s, and Apple’s. Kobo’s discoverability problem is so massive it’s not even funny.

Think for a second about what you know about Amazon’s site compared to other book vendors. You know it’s better than B&N, Apple, and Kobo for finding books. Authors know if you get on the “people who bought this book” list that you’ll sell more books– you make sales to people who may not have heard of you. This effect exists at Apple in a MUCH narrower set of circumstances (so narrow as to not matter to most of us); it’s more diffuse at B&N because B&N deliberately privileges print over eBooks and the traditionally published over all others, and their site is flawed. They bury Nook books to the point where it can look like there’s no eBook when there is. I still get the shudders from trying to find a book to buy at Kobo. Google remains irrelevant.

What Amazon at least partially addressed with this acquisition wasn’t an attempt to fix a shortcoming only it has. It just positioned itself to make its discoverability/algorithms (possibly) exponentially better than everyone else’s. And I say that while recognizing that “better than everyone else” still may not be as effective as it should be.

Meanwhile, B&N continues to work for publishers, forgetting that they need readers, too, and Kobo, I pray, is working on fixing its issues. Microsoft could have bought GR and brought that into its Nook acquisition. Kobo, with its deep pockets, could have done the same. But that didn’t happen. Because Amazon is looking forward and playing the long game, with plenty of money to do so.

It’s not that Amazon was attempting to address a shortcoming only it has, and for publishers and vendors to forget for a second that discoverability isn’t their problem too means they’re not looking at their future with a wide enough lens.

What do you think?


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