Friday, March 29, 2013

Goodreads Goes with Goliath

There have been, by some count, more than 1,000 blog and article posts on's purchase this week of Goodreads -- and many of them were less than positive. In the perceived, wild-and-wooly world of the Internet, it was like the rebellious youth who cut his hair, put on a tie and went into investment banking.

And while the money might have been so good that the rebel could switch from mac-and-cheese to marzipan-filled sea bass for dinner, everyone whispered that he somehow lost his soul along the way. He had not only sold out but had become one of fthe numberless minions who no longer has any opinions to express or differences to air.
Readers hope Goodreads isn't done in by Amazon.

OK, enough with the labored analogies (I can hear the groans in cyberspace). Let me say that I'm having trouble seeing what all the fuss is about. Goodreads fits Amazon; its corporate mission follows that of its Mothra-like, new parent company. In the digital age of publishing, both Amazon and Goodreads get it: the consumer voice drives business, and the more voices that can carry the company, the better.

For a brief recap (and anyone can read more by a quick glance at the Internet stories), Goodreads was an insolent startup from a man named Otis Chandler that had no grand desire to change the world. All he really wanted to do was to publish reader opinions on books they enjoyed, offering their reviews and tipping off other book-obsessed consumers on what to read. It is a fandome site but one that also allows the most in-depth of reviews to be shared and handled by many. On Goodreads, the readers become the critics, and there is a sense of empowerment in that.

Amazon, in my view, will not be changing that focus. There is a lot of hand-wringing over the purportedly high-eight-figure price that Chandler received and the fact that Goodreads is now part of the digital delivery machine that is Amazon. And that is true. But also consider how Amazon has gathered its own strength, first as a bookseller and now as a consumer magnet for all things entertaining that can be materially bought.

Amazon is more than a portal for sales; founder Jeff Bezos has avoided the same trap that has led to the deaths of many other Internet properties. Its strength also lies in its many product reviews -- both from professional and amateur sources. It offers suggestions for other products, and it delivers a vehicle for the sharing of information that also leads to informed consumers. People forget that when discussing Amazon's net worth.

Goodreads fits the same model, one that any 21st century business should also follow. Today, it is not only significant to listen to the consumer but give that consumer a megaphone to voice its views. Every large consumer products company worth its salt has its own blog for consumer response. And anyone looking to buy anything, be it books or Buicks, can go to numerous consumer sites for information. And we should all say "hallelujah" for that.

Yes, Goodreads now becomes part of large corporate America and sheds its cloak as the rebellious upstart. But isn't that part of growing up, in this case? Goodreads isn't joining the soul-killing investment bank but the company offering the most diverse platform for new voices on the street.

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