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Amazon Acquires Social Reading Site Goodreads (techcrunch.com)
296 points by ssclafani on Mar 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

This acquisition makes so, so much sense. I have a goodreads account, but I never update it, mostly because it's too much time. If it were well-connected (or synced?) with my Kindle, I would use it literally weekly.

My biggest complaint about Good Reads is it's confusing user interface. I would really use it a lot more if it was a little less clunky to use.

The mobile app is much simpler to use than the website.

Have you found a good alternative? I'm interested in a service like this, but I haven't been able to find anything better.

No, it really is the best service out there currently, mostly because it has the most number of people on it. I think it would be amazing if Amazon can integrate the Kindle with it and improve on some of the annoyances.

> I think it would be amazing if Amazon can integrate the Kindle with it and improve on some of the annoyances.

Amazon have a terrible reputation when it comes to user interfaces.

There are some amazing things about Amazon. I use Amazon often. But the website sucks; search is pretty much broken (it's like web search used to be); Kindle ebooks sometimes have laughably terrible typography.

Disagree! While eBook typography is a gimme — can’t disagree there — Amazon.com is one of the most usable sites out there. Sure, Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think is a bit old, but there’s a reason he kept using Amazon as an example of whom to copy. They have good UI design because they had to in order to win online commerce. Flows like reporting problems with orders are very well thought out and guide you to the proper next action, whether you are starting from the the page of the product you ordered or your account history, for example.

Similarly, I don’t know anyone who is very confused by Amazon property IMDB.

Amazon.com search may not be as good as Google’s, but it isn’t the worst thing ever. I will agree they still need to work on relatively basic things like spelling correction. But remember A9? Amazon have certainly invested in search. And certainly their book search is worlds better than GoodReads’ is! Basic things like "hitch-hiker's" vs "hitchhickers", IIRC, have tripped up GoodReads search, but don’t make as much a difference on Amazon.

The new redesign of Amazon's Audible site was pretty good. Their cancellation process made me want to murder them, so I guess it was a mixed bag.

What are some of the problems you have with the interface? I've certainly got some issues with it, but they're mostly at at the small niggle level, rather than completely off-putting level.

I have significant issues with the UI (just like the grandparent post). I have frequently (well, as frequently as I use the app, which is slightly less than monthly) found myself wondering: “Wait, how do I mark this book as read? How do I add this book to my reading or to-read lists?” Such fundamental actions should not be so non-obvious.

I'm obviously just too used to the interface! I do have an issue with the fact that adding a book to your "to-read" list is the default, and gets a huge button of its own on every page, but, yes, I guess if you're not used to the concept that the whole thing revolves around putting books on virtual shelves, then it's not necessarily obvious that you click the little "books on a shelf" icon to put it on your "Read" shelf, or the "Currently Reading" shelf, etc.

Right! The whole “shelf” analogy is silly and unnecessary. It doesn’t make the interface familiar and obvious. Real people don’t actually have a shelf for books they want to read, are reading, and have read. We do get those concepts by themselves, so those states should simply be exposed directly, as what they are, no analogy needed. It’s an extra layer and extra mental work, for no benefit.

(Should also mention that the interface I am discussing is the one with which I’m familiar: their current iPhone app as-of 2012–2013.)

Besides the difficulty of marking the status of a particular book, it is incredibly difficult to actually discuss particular books.

There is also no capability to discuss only up to a particular portion of a book or any easy way to read books together etc.

The product has a lot of potential, but there are some fundamental usability issues holding it back imo.

100%. I'm looking forward to auto-syncing my Goodread account to paper books I bought, e books on my Kindle, etc.

For me it's the opposite. I regularly update goodreads to keep track and share with people whose recommendations i value. Most people don't read only on kindle and only from amazon.

There are two sides to this : goodreads clearly needs a better interface and reviewing system on the one hand, on the other hand, what if amazon decides to restrict it to content bought from amazon?

I hope the site stays independent and is not merged into amazon

It wouldn't make any sense to restrict what people list only to what Amazon knows they bought. For one thing, a friend could have bought a hardcover from Amazon and gifted it to me in person. Amazon's objective is to sell you more books, not worry about where you bought your last one.

I have Goodreads account too, and became a librarian to be able to fix information and add books that are missing.

I update my progress all the time, when I finish a book, or every evening my current progress on the books I read. Using their Android app is pretty darn quick, and I get a lot value out of it.

On the other hand, my Kindle has mostly Project Gutenberg or other out of copyright books, only bought a handful new ones, so I personally don't care much about the syncing with Kindle. Some people also complain about too much noise in their friend feed about progress updates, so I guess some thought needs to be put into the implementation.

Agreed. I don't use a Kindle, but having a (optional, configurable) "Rate this book?" prompt when removing a book from my in-progress shelf would be very handy.

It's even more frustrating than that, currently, because when you finish a Kindle book, it asks if you want to tweet about it or post it on Facebook. I don't, but I very much want to post my rating of it to Goodreads, and that isn't currently an option.

This fixes a big hole that a lot of people (at least, a lot of people on Goodreads) have been clamoring for.

Definitely an obviously good acquisition.

Considering Amazon already has a review section for each book it sells, this seems like it was already a missed opportunity. It's great they're probably not going to kill the service, but it seems like it'd have made sense to have more tightly integrated their own reviews a long time ago.

Hopefully they will invest in development of the actual site. Its ui is inconsistent, sometimes confusing, and at times very slow. While they support many many use cases, the workflow for a simple thing like "add a book I am reading and the start date" is needlessly convulted. I also don't like how they prioritize the English version in the results even if you search for another / the original language. Especially in the latter case, the original should be highlighted. And you can only mark the edition your read, not the language explicitly.

All that's true, but it's actually one of the reasons I love the site. It's got a funky, homemade feel that I find quite charming. Part of the reason that I'm comfortable contributing my reading information to the site (~500 books so far) is that I don't feel like it's being sucked into a corporate borg. This past year I've been trying to get away from Amazon by replacing the Kindle app on my phone with Moonreader, so I'm really sad to see Goodreads get assimilated.

If funky and homemade is your thing, there's always librarything (which also has a real business model, so not likely to get swallowed up any time soon.)

Apparently, Amazon holds a 40% stake in Abebooks which owns LibraryThing. From Pandodaily, "Amazon already owns Shelfari as well as Abebooks, which bought a 40-percent stake in LibraryThing in 2006, so it owns all or part of three of the top social-reading sites."


They actually don't prioritise the English version — they simply prioritise the version that the highest number of users have read/rated/reviewed. Sometimes this causes unexpected issues the other way round, such as with old English children's books by authors like Enid Blyton that these days are much more popular in Indonesia.

A mail from a year ago (29/1/2012).

We want to let you know about a change on our site that is impacting some of the books on your shelves. It's important that you read this and take action by Monday, January 30.

For years, we've used Amazon's data for information such as the book title, author, and publication date. Unfortunately, the terms required by Amazon have now become so restrictive that we decided it makes better sense to work with other data sources. However, the deadline to make the transition is Amazon's, and they have told us that we must stop using their data by January 30. We have to meet this deadline.

We've been adding data from other sources and now know which books still need help. You are receiving this email because we need new sources for 2 of the books on your shelves.

First, please be assured that none of your reviews or ratings are in danger. Not a single review, comment, shelving, or rating will be lost in this transition. We have a system in place to preserve your reviews and comments for any books at risk until we can find new sources. That's the most important thing—your data is 100 percent safe.

What can you do? The good news is you can rescue your books. Saving a book is easy. Just click the "Rescue Me!" button next to each book edition that needs help, and fill in the information on the following page. A few keystrokes can help preserve these books for millions of future readers.

Rescue your books!

It takes only a few clicks, and you will be doing your part to make sure these books remain available for other readers like you. We appreciate the passion you bring to Goodreads, and we apologize for the short notice. If we could have prevented this inconvenience in any way, we would have done it. Ultimately, this change will be better for the members of Goodreads and long-term success of the site.

If you don't want to rescue your books, you can also export your books to a spreadsheet so you have a record of them.

All the best, Otis & Elizabeth Goodreads Founders

It's weird, playing hardball with your platform for the purpose of forcing an acquisition. Do the BD & corp dev folks here think they are going to retain the founders for long, after this kind of behavior?

Then again, Tony Hsieh is still at Zappos, right?

It seems kind of paranoid to suggest that Amazon would manipulate an API that's so central to their business for the purpose of forcing an minor acquisition. Not to mention it would probably be cheaper to just buy the target for a few million dollars.

They cut off data access, right? That sounds exactly what has happened multiple times with other companies to drive an acquisition. I bring up Zappos because Amazon forced a sale there. All they needed to do was threaten a "diapers.com" where they forced an acquisition in that case by (unsustainably) undercutting prices. Companies manipulate their platforms constantly to achieve their business goals.

Also, only the paranoid survive.

Goodreads is not Zappos. They are at least an order of magnitude apart in size, if not two, and Amazon is larger now too.

Making large strategic plays makes sense when you're talking about a purchase that is a large percentage of your own company's market value. It does not make sense for a tiny buy. This would be like refinancing your mortgage to buy a Big Mac.

I agree that it makes a ton of sense for both companies, but how they integrate it is going to be very important. My wife and I don't use a number of Kindle features (including the current built in review feature) in part because we share our Amazon account. But, I am a big GoodReads user.

If Goodreads just gets attached on a per device basis (like Twitter), then it's no problem, but if it gets integrated with the Amazon account itself (as some people seem to be suggesting) then I don't see how we (and many others like us) could use it.

Is there a reason you both use the same Amazon account? I'm interested because we see this problem crop up every now and then. Apple ID's are another place it's been problematic. With Apple I can understand sharing the ID so you can listen to each others music collection but what are the benefits of sharing an Amazon account? Prime?

I would assume the main reason is to share Kindle books.

Good point, should have thought of that. Possibly music and other media too. I always forget Amazon sells so much digital content.

My wife and I shared an Amazon account for a while (~10 years) because it was easier. If you live with someone and have joint finances, why bother with separate Amazon accounts?

Well for one thing, it makes keeping gifts secret more difficult. Seriously though, you could also share a Gmail account but why do that when there's no incremental fee (households can share a Prime account)? It just leaves you with a more confused data set and poor product recommendations.

Assuming that you're sincere in asking... neither my wife nor I care about the product recommendations and I don't see how "a confused data set" hurts me other than that (the data set's going to be confused by the fact that we frequently buy gifts for other people over Amazon anyway). Gifts are easy; you just tell the other person not to look at the orders because you bought him or her a gift.

The incremental cost is in keeping shipping addresses and credit card info up to date in two accounts vs. one and in having to remember which account was used to order something if we need to look up order info.

The only advantage in having separate accounts is when it comes to commenting and reviewing; I'm picky about only having reviews that I've written listed under my name, so we got separate accounts when she wanted to review some purchases. Many people (and probably most nontechnical people) do not care at all about the "benefits" you mentioned. Plenty of couples share email accounts too. I've even seen shared Facebook accounts.

So I do share my Amazon account with my partner, but only so we can have a single Kindle library. Other than that, it seems like a disaster... obviously it's personal preference, but it's a lot easier to deal with security and data models when you're using them the way they were built to be used (1 person to 1 account.)

From your description, it sounds like you really have two accounts, but you just do all your purchasing from one.

Sharing a free email account just seems like an exercise in frustration. The whole usage model for email - inbox, notifications, read/unread, filing, deleting - is designed on the presumption that the messages are being consumed by a single individual. I've always viewed sharing an email account as something that old folks do because it maps to their model of a physical mailbox, or because they're too feeble to maintain / login to multiple accounts.

Having worked for Amazon, I suspect you're not getting the benefit of a lot of their recommendation technology if you're sharing an account. It's not just about purchases - it's about every page in your clickstream and how that's used to find products you'll like. We actually had projects in some services dedicated to reducing sharing of accounts, partially for that reason.

BTW,prime is already shareable to multiple accounts in the same household.

The lack of integration with my kindle is a large part of why I don't use Goodreads as much as I might otherwise but I'm kind of disappointed that it will take a buyout to get that integration rather than Amazon creating an api that would allow third-parties to integrate their services with the device directly.

It's a shame that Amazon didn't invest in creating a Kindle API rather than buying an existing service. I built http://kindred.it to load up my highlights via xpath because I was so frustrated with the kindle.amazon.com UI - it seems they could benefit much more from creating an API and letting great services be built rather than acquiring what will likely be Shelfari mkII.

I'm just hoping the older Kindles with see Goodreads integration too and that it will not be for Amazon eBooks only - and perhaps a separate Goodreads app. I've been a member since March 2008 and with three Kindles it's a minor pain to hop on Goodreads with the built-in browser. It's exactly what the eInk Kindles need. Apart from a way to get eBooks from the built-in web browser.

According to the owner of the site, Kindle integration will be a top priority

"2. Our members have been asking us to bring the Goodreads experience to an e-reader for a long time. Now we're looking forward to bringing Goodreads to the most popular e-reader in the world, Kindle, and further reinventing what reading can be."


This kind of capability (exporting and integrating kindle data) already exist. Take a looks at http://amazd.com/ahmad/book for an example.

Not surprised. Goodreads is for books what IMDB is for movies (which Amazon also owns). It'll nicely complement Amazon as a recommendation engine to push buyers to amazon to purchase books (which it already does). I use goodreads to track books that I want to read at some later point; and have used it to discover new books.

Atleast I'm glad it was Amazon vs "Any Other Big Corp" because I believe that Amazon will keep the service alive vs shutting it down or trying to absorb it somehow.

This isn't a good analogy. IMDb was and is literally the best source of movie data anywhere. It is more useful to think of them as Wikipedia for movies since the community maintains the info and includes data that isn't available anywhere else.

Goodreads is the largest community of book readers in the world and so they would be able to provide their tools for book groups and conversations about books that Amazon is sorely lacking.

That isn't a good analysis. I have found wikipedia itself to be the best source of movie data. For all titles I've searched (and not always mainstream or US releases), wikipedia has a better summary, a better plot description, more release info, and a better page layout. Perhaps it doesn't list all the production details such as who was the key grip, but you can easily jump to all the major cast and producer/director wiki pages. It just seems more complete and easier to read. Imdb now seems too specialized, like it's for the movie industry itself.

That might be precisely what the OP meant by 'best'. To me the distinction they make seems important and not inconsistent with what you've said.

Of course, Amazon's purchase of IMDB took place several years before Wikipedia even existed.

I'd compare Goodreads to Foursquare. I mostly use it for my own purposes of tracking what I'm reading (similar to checking in at a restaurant) and occasionally see a recommendation from a friend I'm following (similar to restaurant tips/check ins).

Book Depository getting more popular than Amozon? boom, they buy them.

GoodReads having better Google positions for books than Amazon? boom, they buy them.

I am personally a little afraid of this monopolistic behaviour. But hey, capitalism, I guess...

A lot depends on what they do with the companies they acquire.

Lots of people were afraid of what would happen to BookDepository post-sale, but pretty much none of that has happened. (I'm particularly grateful that free worldwide shipping didn't disappear!)

Their definition of "free" is fun though.

Try some proxies and simulate visiting the site from different places .... yes, their prices vary based on from where you visit it, so they add the shipping to the basic prices.

Prices sometimes also change depending on which site you're visiting. Generally these are just a few pennies, but I've seen differences of more than two or three pounds between the .com and .co.uk prices for the same book, even though theoretically they should be exactly the same.

I think this is Amazon's third purchase of a social book community.

Maybe Amazon can turn Goodreads into an actual recommendation site and use the full capabilities of its databases and search facilities.

To this day, since I first joined near its founding, I am astonished that there is still no way to search for the highest rated and voted books within a genre.

Instead, one is left to rely on heavily skewed "Lists" or "popular" books or their (annual) Award system.

In short, at this time, Goodreads for books is far less useful than say, IMDB is for movies. I actually find Goodreads less useful than Amazon itself for recommendations!

I was never a big reader of books before I joined Goodreads. I spent a lot of time reading tech books (mostly programming related) but never fictional books. Since joining Goodreads and enjoying the social aspect Ive read so many more books. I really hope Amazon doesn't destroy this service

Nobody's talking about Shelfari, which hasn't changed since 2008 when Amazon acquired it. It got frozen in time.

Not exactly true, I use it often and small features are being added to it semi-regularly.

So....Shelfari is going to die now? I guess the team there with Shelfari couldn't cut it with making a good Book data site.

I never knew this one! Looks simpler than Goodreads, I like it. But it has the same bias towards the English edition of a book, not even highlighting the original even if I searched for it. I wonder what's gonna happen to it.

I hope not... I find shelfari to be a far superior site than Goodreads.

I used to be one of the engineers on shelfari. The team was kept mostly the same 4-5 guys from before acquisition and we worked on incremental stuff - integrating with Amazon sign-on, better meta data, lot's of minor UI things like better threads, series info etc etc.

Besides Apple, I see Readmill [1] as another serious competitor. It provides the social integration on top of an ebook reader. However it's lacking in its catalog selection.

[1] http://readmill.com

Makes a huge amount of sense for Amazon, but honestly I can only see this as a bad thing for Goodreads. Amazon has huge issues with reviews of the fulfilling company getting blended in with reviews of the actual product, and there's another layer added with media - quality of the content, completely separate from the build (pages falling out, horrible OCR, etc).

Goodreads has reviews of content quality. Amazon will muddy that immensely with reviews of every other part of a sale if they do any integration into Amazon (unless they plan an overhaul of their reviewing architecture - I'd love it, but I doubt it).

I'm hopeful that if they integrate the reviews at all (and I'm not sure they will — I suspect there's a different plan here), it'll be solely in the Goodreads→Amazon direction.

Amazon have a fairly good history of letting the companies they acquire stay fairly autonomous and independent.

If I can link my amazon account and have it load all of my books into goodreads that's great. Otherwise, I still won't use goodreads because I have too many books to enter manually and I'm too lazy.

How is this a good thing for readers and other book retailers ? Will we still be able see links to buy books from a number of different retailers such as B&N or Indigo ? I doubt it.

Goodreads and Amazon were two places I used to go to check out book reviews. Now I can get best of both in one place. Makes a lot of sense for Amazon to buy them.

Have they said that they're going to merge those?

I'm a sometimes Goodreads user. I'd use it more if it weren't maddeningly slow.

One thing that I had noticed about Goodreads was that Amazon was always at the bottom of the online store referral list. Because of that, I took them to be Amazon hostile or adverse (perhaps reading too much into that). But, I went to the site today and now Amazon is at the top of the online store referral list.

I'm not looking forward to this. The best community was just bought by the company that killed text-to-speech in their product in favour of making hundred of millions on audiobooks. Welcome to your new garden prison, online book community. Enjoy the complimentary bookmarks.

Personally I think Amazon have just purchased this site for the data.

Goodreads has a fairly reasonable recommendations engine based on the book collections people have inputted into the site, so I'd imagine that information might be very interesting for Amazon to capitalise on.

Maybe there should be a system where the company doing the acquisition has to get permission from the acquired company's users before assimilating them... This however is not going to happen since data is so valuable.

Maybe my reading habits are just weird, but I've found the recommendations from Goodreads to be fairly bad. (Assuming you're talking about the personal recommendations engine, that is — I find their per-title "Similar Books" to be much more useful.)

I'm guessing Goodread's data set on book collections is maybe 1/1000th as large as Amazon's. They're more likely buying them for the community of heavy readers and the team.

The collections on Goodreads are generally more comprehensive than those on Amazon. I've added over 750 books on Goodreads, but fewer than 10% of those were purchased through Amazon.

You're talking about the actual user-generated lists. Amazon also has the data on what all of their users have actually bought over time. (Hundreds of millions vs Goodreads millions.) That's what they use to create purchase recommendations, because it's higher value data than manual user-generated collections.

Yes — Amazon certainly has significantly more data, but Goodreads' data is deeper, because it's not restricted to items bought from Amazon. Goodreads has a much better picture of what I read than Amazon could ever get simply from my purchase history (even if they cross-match with bookdepository). Being able to mine the Goodreads data too should enable them to make even higher value recommendations. (Note: I'm not claiming this is why Amazon bought them!)

I hope they don't murder the site.

Did Woot get murdered? No.

Did Zappos get murdered? No.

Did Quidsi get murdered? No.

Did Shelfari get murdered? No.

(Note: I'm biased.)

For that matter, a friend at http://www.kivasystems.com/ says that Amazon is really pushing them (in a good way - scaling, improvements, etc.)

Woot got a little murdered. It ain't like it used to be.

How so?

Lexcycle got acquired and murdered.

Not a proper disclosure.

Awesome. I love Goodreads. I hope this helps them make it better.

What happened to other social reading sites like Shelfari that got acquired by Amazon?

Amazon has a strong motive to prevent any alternate review service from gaining traction as those Amazon reviews drive sales.

I wonder if this will have an effect on Google's current scraping of goodreads reviews to fluff-up their books section on the Play store...

Now if Amazon will just buy LibraryThing and Discogs I can beam my obsessive library catalog consciousness up into the Amazon mothership.

They are 40% of the way there with LibraryThing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LibraryThing

Probably a dumb question ... But how does this give superior recomendations to amazons normal recomendations?

It doesn't. The selling points are A) the social component (what are my friends reading?) and B) keeping track of books I want to read.

time for me to close my goodreads account I guess...

About time.

First Shelfari which Amazon bought 3 years ago and now Goodreads.

In three years there's been no updates to Shelfari and that was my biggest peeve against Goodreads - lack of update) and absence of even a half decent mobile app(I use Android).

So, looking at Shelfari's fate one can say that Amazon has bought it for anything but continuing the development and doing sth about it's questionable interface.

Hope LibraryThing stays afloat. Would like to move my data there. Just in case.

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