“First do no harm”: My interview with Amazon and Goodreads on the future of Goodreads

Amazon announced Thursday afternoon that it has acquired the popular book-related social networking site Goodreads for an undisclosed sum. I spoke with Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler and Amazon’s VP of Kindle content Russ Grandinetti on what’s next for Goodreads and its 16 million members.

Questions and answers have been edited slightly for clarity.

Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler
Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler

What does the acquisition mean for Goodreads’ reputation as a neutral hub for readers, authors and publishers?

Otis Chandler [OC]: “One of the extremely important things to us is for readers to share what they’re reading, no matter how they’re reading. We have no plans to change that. We want Goodreads to be a place for readers of all types to share their favorite books. You can expect to see customizations and better integrations for people who do use Kindle. For everyone else, Goodreads will remain largely as it is.”

Will Goodreads remain a standalone site, and is its entire team staying on? Is the site getting a redesign?

Grandinetti says Goodreads will be an independent subsidiary of Amazon, like Zappos or IMDB. The site will remain based in San Francisco. Chandler remains CEO, reporting to Grandinetti. Chandler said that Goodreads’ entire team is staying on (and that the company is hiring). To the question of a redesign, he said there is “nothing specific to mention in relation to the acquisition.”

Will Amazon have access to all of the Goodreads users’ data?

OC: “Goodreads is or will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon, so on one level, yes. Are things going to happen in the background without customers understanding it? I think the answer to that is no….We’ll make it very easy for someone to say, ‘Yeah, I’d love it if you could import all of my Amazon or Kindle purchases into my Goodreads shelf.’ We’ll make it very easy for people to do, but they’ll be aware of what’s happening.”

Users already have the ability to export their data from Goodreads, and they’ll continue to be able to do so.

Will Amazon use Goodreads reviews on its own retail site, or will Amazon reader reviews migrate over to Goodreads? In general, how much content will cross between the sites?

OC:We’re going to think about this in terms of what’s best for our members. Maybe if we find books that don’t have any Goodreads reviews we might consider that, but I don’t think there’s any specific plans to do that at this time.”

Russ Grandinetti [RG]: “Our mentality here is to first do no harm, and make sure that if we’re going to do integrations, users genuinely find it to be a big benefit.”

Right now, Goodreads includes links to many retailers (like Barnes & Noble and Indiebound) on its book pages. Will that practice continue?

OC: “It’s incredibly important to us that Goodreads remain a platform for all kinds of readers to use, whether they’re reading paper or on their Nook or Kindle or whatever. We always want Goodreads to be a place for people to share and talk about books…As for specific design of [the links], we’ll see, but we really think about it from the user perspective. If users really want those links [to other retailers], then those links will probably still be there.”

Will Goodreads now include a retail component — for instance, selling print or Kindle books from its site?

RG: “The design they have works incredibly well for users. You see that in the number of users who join that service.”

OC: “I think, short-term, the thing we’re most excited about is actually bringing the book into Goodreads and enabling people to just start reading right there from the Kindle Cloud Reader. We’ve never had a good book preview feature.”

Will Goodreads expand internationally?

RG: “As you’ve seen in the last couple of years, one thing we’ve been working hard on at Kindle is [globalizing] the business…Goodreads has many users around the world. In terms of new languages and other countries, I think that’s an area of opportunity for both of us to work on.”

OC: “Amazon has done a fabulous job of curating databases of international metadata.”

Speaking of metadata, Goodreads stopped sourcing its metadata from Amazon in early 2012, switching to Ingram’s metadata instead. What happens now?

OC: “We’re going to determine what makes the most sense, but we’ll have access to Amazon’s metadata and certainly will probably be using it.”

Are the Kindle and Goodreads apps combining?

RG: “Our goal would be…[for] the Kindle experience as it exists both on devices and apps, [to put] putting the connection [users] have on Goodreads as close to their fingertips as possible. When and how we do that, I’ll ask you to stay tuned.”

Will Goodreads retain its public API? Does Kobo get to keep its Goodreads review feed?

OC: “Yes [on the API],” and “we’re not going to shut [the Kobo feed] off.”

Why did Amazon buy Shelfari? Was that a failed acquisition?

RG: “We’ve used [Shelfari] to generate quite a bit of incremental data about books. It’s powered features we’ve launched over time, such as book extras and X-Ray. But, of course, Goodreads has been much more of a social connection site and a larger social network. So when it comes to the graph we’ll use to connect people on Kindle, Goodreads will power that.”

Will Goodreads keep sharing data about its readers at conferences and so on?

OC: “Yeah, as far as I know, I think we’re still excited to share readers’ behavior…and create lots more 50 Shades of Grey infographics.”

Disclosure: Goodreads is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of GigaOM/paidContent.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Thomas Bethge