So it’s been almost a month now since Goodreads clamped down on reviews they deemed “off topic.” Secret police raids in the middle of the night commenced and reviews and shelves disappeared with no explanation other than they were
dangerous to the party “off topic.” I can only imagine that these reviews and shelves were summarily executed and not dragged off to the review gulag because we’ve never seen them again. Well, I don’t need to explain to you what happened. If you’re reading this then you probably already know what went down. If you don’t know, others have written far better pieces on this topic. Needless to say, there was a great exodus from Goodreads, many moving to the welcoming arms of Booklikes or breaking ground in their own blogs. I’ve done a little of both and now that it has been a few weeks I guess it’s time for a little self-assessment.
I haven’t written anything yet about my views on the matter. Mostly this is because I haven’t been able to really put my thoughts together. I mean, I’m not even a “social media” kind of guy. I didn’t even know what Twitter was until a couple of years ago, I’m almost embarrassed to say (and I’m not even that old). Or Skype. Or Instagram. In fact, I am, in general, hopelessly out of date. So it was a great joy to find a site that was all about my newly re-discovered chosen preoccupation: reading! Furthermore, I could read about what others think about what I’ve read! I could discover new things to read! Heck, I even “met” some great people. Wow! Goodreads my ass– GREATreads is more like it!
And things were great for a couple of years until the dark lord Darth Bezos told Otis Bookwalker, “Otis, I am your father. Or at least you will call me ‘daddy.'” Goodreads became a part of the Amazon empire (or became its prison bitch, if you prefer). Goodreaders were full of skepticism, but Otis kept telling us in a soothing tone of voice to keep calm, nothing will happen. Joining with Amazon will be good for all of us (famous last words). I have to admit that even though I made my share of jokes about our new “Amazon Overlords” I didn’t really think that it would have such a sudden or significant impact on our overall Goodreads experience. Mid-October it came full force when reviews started to disappear and the review gestapo stared knocking on doors and boom goes the dynamite.
Now, I haven’t yet read all the stuff people have written about how or why this all happened, but I think it would be naive to think that Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads did not have any influence on what happened. I think it’s fairly obvious that it did. At any rate, people left. I wish I had statistics on this, but what I can say is that many of the people on my meager friends list and list of followings took their business elsewhere. The hell of it is that many of these people that left, the people that were victims of the “purge” were also the people that made Goodreads what it was. Sure, Otis set the thing up, but the reviews and the community were created by these users. Is that gratitude? Of course, Goodreads is Otis’ house (well, technically Jeff’s now, I guess) and he can do what he wants with it, including censor reviews. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cheap-ass stunt to pull.
Speaking strictly for myself, I cannot, with good conscience, write another review for Goodreads, rate another rating, enter another giveaway or otherwise feed the market data monster that Goodreads has become. I don’t have anything against the friends that decided to stay, but I just can’t get into it. Speaking of friends, here is another insidious aspect of Goodreads’ approach: Goodreads is holding your friends and online relationships hostage. Do you think people are going to want to leave their friends behind? Of course not. Comply or leave your friends and status at Goodreads behind. Maybe Goodreads didn’t plan this explicitly, but practically speaking holding your relationships hostage is exactly what they are doing.
To be totally honest, I can’t blame Amazon too much. It is what it is: a massive business machine. I don’t agree with their practices and I generally have the impression that Bezos might be a little bit of a dick. Buy you have to expect that they’re going to do this sort of thing. Acquire, assimilate. Like the Borg. But they are good to their customers. I try to avoid business with them whenever possible by patronizing local booksellers, but I know that even many small booksellers utilize the Amazon marketplace for additional business. You can’t even hardly avoid it. For example, once I thought I was pulling a fast one Amazon by finding a hard-to-find book on Abe Books. Guess what? Owned by Amazon. Go figure. I’d be a hypocrite if I railed against Amazon while still doing business with them, but I recognize them for what they are. Amazon is the devil you know.
So I have a practical attitude toward Amazon. If I give it money it will give me the things I want. They are good to me, the consumer, because they want my business. In effect, they are kissing my ass. That is our superior position as consumers. Goodreads, however, altered that relationship by making Goodreaders unwitting participants in Amazon’s marketing machine. Otis had a choice. He didn’t have to sell out. He always said that Goodreads was a site for readers. He neglected to mention that only applies until the big payoff comes and he sees dollar signs in his eyes. Am I wrong? Convince me, Otis. I think it’s a sorry state of affairs when dollar signs replace integrity. “Capitalism without conscience” and “anarchy for the rich”…not my bag, baby. I’m not making some political case here. I’m just making a case for being a rock-solid human being and being true to your word.
On another note, I think it’s kind of amusing that people are getting all riled up about the NSA checking up on your phone records or tracking your internet usage. Of course I don’t like intrusion, but I’m not too worried about it. I seriously doubt the NSA gives a shit about your funny cat videos or the cell phone photos of your cock you send to your mistress. But people are very concerned about this. On the other hand, people don’t seem too upset about mega-business tracking your every move, accumulating personal data and utilizing it for their own purposes. No, I’m not in the least concerned about the federal government. They are out to catch terrorists. Business wants to sell you a handbag.
But I’m digressing here, so let me rein it in. The question is: what now?
Booklikes is not a complete solution for me, not yet. The interface is a little clunky, but does seem to have a growing and vibrant community of Goodreads expats, which is good. Despite the bugginess of Goodreads, I did like the format and felt like I could keep up with friends’ reviews, something that seems a little harder on Booklikes. But I think Booklikes will improve. I’ll still have a notional presence on Goodreads, but I won’t let Goodreads use me. I’ll use it to check in on friends and people I’m following and for book research, but I won’t provide content for them. Book “reviews” will be pointers to reviews at Booklikes and my own blog. And I’ll write also at my WordPress blog. If there’s an easier, automated way to cross-post between Booklikes and WordPress, please do fill me in.
I suppose that I should consider myself fortunate that I got into Goodreads relatively late and haven’t invested as much effort and time into Goodreads as many ex-Goodreaders have. Even so, it hasn’t been an easy transition. Honestly, I don’t think Otis really gives a damn and Goodreads won’t go back to the way it was. In fact, I think it’s only a matter of time before things get worse and reviews will turn into those worthless product reviews you find on Amazon. Time will tell. But I’m learning how to stop worrying. I’ve got books to read.