Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads is getting quite a bit of press right now. I was called a few hours before the announcement and told that it was coming. The first thing that blurted out of my mouth was: “This is like finding out my mom is marrying that cool dude next door that I’ve been palling around with.” The person on the other end of the line laughed and asked if they could use that in the press release. I typed up a version and included it was.
I understand that there will be a lot of hand-wringing over the acquisition. To many, Amazon is an evil corporation hellbent on destroying the world. They have made these intentions clear by paying authors a shitload and fighting to lower the price of books for readers. I think we can all agree that authors and readers are scum, and this preferential treatment on the part of Amazon should be looked at with complete distrust.
The reality is that everyone I know at Amazon, from top to bottom, loves books. They love readers. They love authors. I think this permeates the company because of the passion Jeff Bezos holds for all things book. He has made it a goal to get more people reading and more people writing than at any time in human history. Because of Amazon (largely Amazon), more people are making a living at writing than ever before. Because of Amazon (largely Amazon), books are more affordable than ever before.
There’s a false assumption out there that the book industry is waging internal battles. I saw this during my book tour, as conversations about self vs. traditional and indie bookstore vs. B&N and e-book vs. print and paperback vs. hardback flew and raged. Meanwhile, most of the people in the cities I visited strolled by bookstores without glancing inside. Most of the people in the airports weren’t reading. We are fighting amongst ourselves while the real battle is ignored.
There are more ways to entertain oneself now. Ways that consume less effort, time, and money. You can read Facebook all day for free (internet and cell-phones being as much a necessity as power and water these days). You can watch TV, play videogames, walk your dog, or a billion other things. Our war is to get more people reading (and writing, but that’s more my war, I think). Amazon and Goodreads have been fighting that war. If anyone thinks the fighting has been between them, I don’t know that they’ve looked up from their books and studied the landscape.
Yes, the publishing industry is going through some changes. Bookstores are getting squeezed, and that’s sad. But the bookstores that add to the reading and writing experience are doing well (indie bookstores are up 8%). The bookstores that are hellbent on carrying more boardgames and fewer books aren’t doing as well. It’s good to keep in mind that consumers are driving these changes. Just as record stores closed, so are bookstores feeling the digital crunch. Blaming whatever company caters to our demand seems odd to me.
Another group getting the squeeze are the publishers. Note that it’s the middlemen, the distributors, that are hurting. The reader and author are benefiting. So when we say that the new regime is hurting the book industry, we are saying that authors should earn less and readers pay more so that people in the middle can pay Manhattan and High Street rent. That we’ve allowed the PR machines to shape the debate thusly seems surreal to me. I’m sad for all the travel agents who have had to find new jobs, but I love my ability to search for flights, book them, and print my boarding pass from home. The new world rocks. I wish the change wasn’t painful for some while it improves the lives of most, but that’s what happens.
I can think of a dozen ways this acquisition might make my life better as both a reader and an author. Right now, I spend a lot of time on both sites in both capacities. My guess is that we won’t see many changes at all. I’m betting that the real acquisition here is all the data behind the scenes. The algorithms that tell me what to buy (and almost always nail it) are going to get better. The social networks that feed my reading habit are going to get stronger. The people who helped make Goodreads awesome are going to get richer. And the people at Amazon, who I have gotten to know this past year and who to a man and woman love the fuck out of some books, are going to keep trying to get the right ones in the hands of readers.
Hell yeah. So many ways this can be good for all involved. I’m still trying to think of a way it could suck.