Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Is GoodReads A Good or Bad Thing For Books?

It's been a very long tome since Amazon bought up all the viable book recommendation sites - GoodReads included - but over in The New Statesman Sara Manavis suggests that Goodreads is not all good for books. Bad actually.

Apparently the one thing which unifies Goodreads users is that they all agree that the user experience sucks. I always believed Amazon buying these book recommendation and social networking sites was  cynical in the first place: Nothing should stop the Amazon juggernaut from dominating your book discovery and reading experience. Amazon were never really interested in the functionality or site 'experience' of these sites, they just wanted the enthusiasts and they were not going to let a potential competitor grow nor allow a real competitor buy up these companies.  In 2008, Amazon purchased Shelfari and in 2013 completed the Goodreads deal.  There was shock demonstrated at the time and commentators and users felt the sellers had sold out to the bad actor. Many felt betrayed.  But, according to the Manavis article there are still more than 90million users which is considerably more than the 16mm members back in 2008.

Since 2008, web design has changed considerably. No surprise there. However, to confirm the thesis that Amazon wasn't really interested in this product per se, the Goodreads website is virtually unchanged since 2008.  Manavis notes the frustration of users,

Goodreads today looks and works much as it did when it was launched. The design is like a teenager’s 2005 Myspace page: cluttered, random and unintuitive. Books fail to appear when searched for, messages fail to send, and users are flooded with updates in their timelines that have nothing to do with the books they want to read or have read. Many now use it purely to track their reading, rather than get recommendations or build a community. “It should be my favourite platform,” one user told me, “but it’s completely useless.”

Minavis suggests that the negative feedback has reached some type of breaking point, and I believe there is room in the market for other online booksellers of scale.

When I became CEO of Ingenta, the company was planning a commercial B2C book retail store. We had conversations with publishers, built some wire frames and developed a product concept. We planned to use existing technology (subsequently proven unstable). I had to squelch this initiative to concentrate on saving the company and delivering to current customers. It was actually a very crazy idea given our circumstances stoked by the high (and bizarre) interest of our board. Ingenta had a closet full of ill-conceived poorly executed projects and this would have been a spectacular example.

Looking around for other book recommendation sites, I still use LibraryThing but even they have some corporate overlords. LibraryThing is majority owned by the founder Tim Spalding but he counts both Amazon and Proquest as partial owners. LibraryThing hasn't changed much over the years either but I don't have anything like the frustration some of the Goodreaders seem to have.  Maybe they should come over.

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