By Laura Miller at Salon
When Amazon bought Goodreads it got a community of passionate readers, not all of whom want to follow the new rules
With 20 million members (a number some have noted is close to the population of Australia) and a reputation as a place where readers meet to trade information and share their excitement about books, the social networking site Goodreads has always appeared to be one of the more idyllic corners of the Internet. The site sold to Amazon for an estimated $190 million this spring, and Goodreads recommendations and data have been integrated into the new Kindle Paperwhite devices, introducing a whole new group of readers to the bookish community.
But if, at a casual glance, the two companies — Goodreads and Amazon — seem to be made for each other, look again. A small but growing faction of longtime, deeply involved Goodreads members are up in arms about recent changes to the site’s enforcement of its policies on what members are permitted to say when reviewing books, and many of them blame the crackdown on the Amazon deal. They’ve staged a protest of sorts, albeit one that’s happening mostly out of the public eye.
It’s possible to deduce Goodreads’ logic on this. By deleting the reviews of the fairly small group of reviewers engaged in the original dispute, they might alienate a tiny fraction of their user base (mostly concentrated in a particular genre) and drive them off the site. But Goodreads might well have been happy to see the last of this faction, reviewers who made a point of searching out and ridiculing bad self-published books, or who dispensed one-star ratings to books they hadn’t even read because they believed the author had misbehaved. Their contributions might have seemed worth sacrificing to Goodreads (although as a longtime “Mystery Science Theater” fan, I personally think there’s a place for well-aimed cultural mockery).
When Aldavan observes that these members don’t feel like customers, he makes an important point, and one that underlines the murkiness of Goodreads’ identity and purpose. You could say that the users are not the customers but the product. In buying the company, Amazon purchased both its reviews — which can be directly accessed by Kindle Paperwhite owners — but also their data, a vast collection of information on what people read and like.
As for disaffected Goodreads members, they’re learning a hard lesson often overlooked by the boosters of digital utopianism: Sooner or later people need to get paid, and sooner or later you get what you pay for. Goodreads’ staff may be small, but they can’t run the site for nothing, and attempts to monetize it could not be postponed indefinitely. Many of the disillusioned reviewers feel burned and cautious about investing their efforts and content in a newer site like Booklikes, which may eventually face the same dilemma. Goodreads itself, if it does not resolve the tension between its moneymaking activities and the interests, desires and faith of its reader-members, risks spoiling the only real resource it has.
See the rest here.
One thing that the article fails to convey is the importance of the data that Goodreads provides to Amazon. This was by far the most valuable asset the website provided. When the users of the site post reviews that by their nature corrupt that data they make themselves a liability to both Goodreads and Amazon. I don’t see further protest by the few people who are doing so as helping their cause. If anything, it will have the opposite effect.
From guest blogger Randall.