Friday, April 5, 2013

Goodreads sale prompts migration

Goodreads, one of, if not the largest, social networking and cataloging sites for book lovers has recently been sold down the mighty Amazon.com. With this sale, Goodreads went from being an independent company, to a subsidiary of a huge company that not only sells books, but publishes them also. This sale, going by the Goodreads forums, has created quite a stir, as some anti-Amazon book lovers have already decided to export their accounts, and their valuable book data including reviews, to other sites that they feel are independent and maybe even more trustworthy than Amazon.

As a member of the three largest sites, Librarything, Amazon owned Shelfari, and Goodreads, it's been fascinating watching the discussions on both Goodreads and Librarything about each of their services, what they stand for and what the sale means for readers. Readers are, and I think legitimately concerned that Goodreads will now have a conflict of interest in both supporting a thriving and critical reader community, while also being owned by a company trying to sell books.

 Some goodreads members have also been upset at realizing they were the product, and their ratings, reviews and interactions on Goodreads are very valuable but because they weren't paying customers (Goodreads is free) they were the ones being sold, at quite a substantial sum, between $150 mil and up-to $1b if some stories are to be be believed,  but perhaps the lower figure is more accurate.

However there are alternatives that are attractive. Librarything was the original cataloging site, founded in 2005 by Tim Spaulding, who remains the controlling shareholder, it charges (from as little as $1 a year) if you want to add more then 200 titles to your library. Tim has been adamant this "paying customer" over "free user account" model means people will get a better experience, it creates loyalty and gives customers rights a user wouldn't have.

I'm hoping the sale does great things for Librarything, as I've found it a lot harder to use then Goodreads. I've also found the level of interaction far less then on Goodreads. This is partly due to interface issues; it's not as friendly and easy to navigate, partly due to design issues; the ethos at Librarything is geared more towards cataloging a collection of books then discussing your collection; and partly due to the fact it's not as popular as Goodreads is. 14 million uses on Goodreads compared to 1.6 on Librarything, I wonder how much the sale will impact numbers of members on both sites.

Take the screenshot from my facebook feed below:
Posted at the same time, Goodreads received more then 700 times as many comments.

I want to have rewarding social experiences online with people who love reading. As a member of three sites, two of which are owned by Amazon, I want to ensure competition remains for Amazon, who are controlling many aspects of the book market.

Shelfari doesn't come close to the interaction of Goodreads or Librarything, and it seems Shelfari has not developed into what it could have become since Amazon bought it in 2008. I'm only a member there as it is very easy to import my Kindle purchases, therefore saving me a lot of time and hassle finding the right editions and covers. I can then move these books to other sites. Another reason that I use Shelfari is its the engine for "x-ray" - Kindle's book encyclopedia that is pretty nifty. When inside an ebook, you can access the x-ray for each page listing character names, biographies, themes and locations. I can edit these with a Shelfari account. From the Amazon Kindle forums there seem to be many who find x-ray a useful feature. I'm very interested to watch how the Goodreads purchase will change Amazon's x-ray database.

Goodreads also gives data like reviews and ratings to Kobo, Independent booksellers, and Barnes and Noble, I can't see this continuing under an Amazon owned Goodreads.

So, if you are dissatisfied with Goodreads, or just want to explore your options, I would recommend trying Librarything.  As a librarian, I do appreciate the ethos of Librarything and it's support for libraries.

If Librarything increased in popularity, more of the promised features will come to pass as there will be more money and more demand. Librarything supports libraries, through products and services, so the better their database is the better catalogues who use Librarything data become.

In in the interests of competition, Peter a goodreads user has started an "escaping Amazon" community on Google+ which includes a very useful spreadsheet with many social cataloging sites listed. Have a look and do check out Librarything which has free year's membership available for the next few hours (Friday midnight depending where you live. , otherwise it's pay what you want, or a lifetime membership is only $25, money well spent I'd say.

Recommended reading:
http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/trust-valuable-quality

http://www.librarything.com/blogs/librarything/2013/04/welcome-goodreads-members/

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1267617-exciting-news-we-re-joining-the-amazon-family