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

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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

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

  1. Hillary Corby

    Goodreads has an ‘author program’ which I participated in. A giveway. The author gets to absorb the cost of giving away free books with apparently no other benefit to them. I had nearly 800 entries for my giveaway. After, Goodreads sent me the list of winners and entrants and I followed up by thankig them for entering, that I appreciated it and if they would like, they could buy the book with a discount code.

    I received this email from Goodreads:
    Hi Hillary,

    Several of your recent messages to Goodreads members have been flagged as self-promotional in nature. Please note that it violates our Terms of Service to send such messages on Goodreads. Nearly all of our members consider unsolicited messages from authors or their representatives to be spam, so not only is it against our rules, it can also be a poor marketing strategy. Please refrain from such activity in the future to avoid being flagged as a spammer.

    Absurd since these people entered MY giveaway. I did NOT seek them out, I did NOT cold call them. If Goodreads had not given me their names, I could have done nothing. So, why did Goodreads give me their names?

    Is a giveaway not self-promotion?

    Goodreads uses authors. Goodreads has the poor marketing strategy when it comes to authors but great when it comes to using them to promote their site.

  2. There are many GoodReads users who aren’t willing to be part of a community that has been purchased by Amazon. Some of us have created a new community, “Escaping Amazon” ( ), to explore and discuss alternatives – both to GoodReads, and to Amazon itself. Anyone is free to join and participate.

    We’ve created a free public resource listing and describing the alternatives we’ve found. It currently contains 66 entries, and it’s available at

    It may be impossible to stop Amazon. But we don’t have to quietly acquiesce.

  3. Maya Panika

    Reblogged this on Maya Panika and commented:
    I’m wondering how everyone feels about Amazon’s takeover of Goodreads? I’m unsure. I have no major beef with Amazon, but they do seem to be going all out to acquire anything and everything – especially to do with books; to be the Tesco of online sales. As a regular user, a fond enthusiast for Goodreads. I hear what the enthusiasts are saying, but personally, I would have much preferred Goodreads to stay independent. Anyway – reblogging an interview here from paidContent: Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler and Amazon’s VP of Kindle content Russ Grandinetti stressed that Goodreads will not change for the worse following its acquisition by Amazon…

  4. Interesting. Words like “nothing specific to mention”, “maybe,” “I don’t think,” “going to think about,” “I think,” “will probably,” “going to determine,” are all very vague answers meaning they will do what they want. If you’re a Kindle owner, you’ll get “all” the benefits. If not, you’re out of luck. This will be a wait & see game. Money tends to talk louder than words so at this point, anything goes.

  5. book-n-music-lover

    These two should become professional “politicians”! They provide “answers” with redirective and nonsensical content–but they make it sound viable. What a sham this interview is. I feel for the interviewer; no real answers, just the usual BS when corporations do as they please for their own benefit(s). I live the term “undisclosed sum.” That’s so…capitalistic! Just self-serving greed with no qualms of selling out. So very sad. More negativity into the Universe…

  6. Mark MacKay

    It’s Goodreads no longer. It’s all Amazon. I used Goodreads because it wasn’t a book seller – or did I miss some nefariousness in the background?

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

    … If users really want those links [to other retailers], then those links will probably still be there.”

    Fat chance. Say good bye to other retailers.

    I think it’s time for me to focus on the social pages provided by my local library. It will be years before Amazon.library figures out a workable pay wall for libraries.

  7. Sharon Bakar

    If you can’t even police your own reviews properly, Amazon, what right do you have to buy out another review website? I complained when my own books were carpet-bombed (and yes I have the evidence that the reviews were paid for by one individual with a grudge) you did nothing because your ineffective “terms of service was not compromised”. Apparently patent lies about a publication you are purporting to promote are perfectly ok. And what percentage of the reviews on your site are “shills”?

  8. I wish the interviewer had asked: “What commercial added value will Amazon gain from this acquisition?” A truthful and comprehensive answer to that question would tell us a lot more than questions about user interfaces etc.

  9. Amazon have been censoring certain types of literature by removing them from their catalogue for sale. Literature, for example, that Amazon denotes as being titillating in regards to sexual non consent, that whilst still within many countries legal jurisdiction has run foul of many moralistic and puritanical groups or individuals who claim offensive material in their complaints to Amazon. Some of these books and themes are openly discussed on Goodreads within Adult only groups. So as this crosses Amazon’s vague and unpublished policies, how will it affect the groups and discussions on Goodreads now they own it? Will it be further censure?

      • Hi Neil,
        Yes I have specific authors and book titles that I know were removed with vague comment by Amazon they did not meet their policies but wouldn’t say why. I have read these books and can see no reason for e.g. slave fantasies to be removed, and some non conensual fantasies. The point being they are fantasy. Yet rapes, torture and murder of the most graphic description is acceptible. Why some and not others…I don’t know either? I would need to ask permission before publicly naming writers and publishers involved. Problem now is do they speak out and maybe have other books or a small publishers remaining portfolio banned from sale by Amazon. The term they use is it should not be titillating. I know of those who get that from reading James Patterson or Val McDermid novels, so should they be banned? I see that there should be no censorship by refusing to sell books if the content is not breaking the laws of the land it is being sold in. The same thing happened with Paypal witholding some writers payment transactions last year until it was challenged. I would like to see Amazon face the same challenges over their restrictive policies. How far down the line before some of GR’s adults only groups are closed down or modified in some way. As an adult, I like to choose for myself what I read and discuss with like minded people.

      • “The term they use is it should not be titillating” Can you provide a reference where they have listed that as a policy? You’re aware that Amazon sells a full assortment of adult products and books, right? There’s stuff there that will singe your nosehairs…

    • That’s simply not true. As someone who has bought any number of “titillating” books and objects from Amazon within the last year, I challenge you to give one example of this.

      • I’ll have to look them up but I remember Amazon removing a lot of books that were erotic incest themed. There were many articles written about this when it happened. Just google Amazon & incest & you’ll find tons of articles about this. They’ve also had a history of pulling Yaoi manga books (gay romance stories).

        Besides all that, they’ve recently started removing reviews at random as long as the person is an author in the same field as they’re reviewing.

      • Sorry for the delay replying. Here are some that have been banned as in were on sale and subsequently removed and or refused for sale by Amazon.
        Flesh Cartel, Capture series by Rachel Haimowitz, which is from Riptide
        Many of Esmarelda Greene’s stories which contain pseudo incest…step parent, yet others are there. Some of Strict Publishing International novels, recently some had to be edited down in their content or were for sale and now removed. I bought Amelia 1, Slavegirls at Watchnest Hall and there was an Amelia 2 to complete the story but it has been removed by Amazon.
        Many of the writers and novels here at have also been refused for sale or removed by Amazon. Yet they are within the legal jurisdiction of many countries in Westernised countries at least.

        Two interesting relevant articles:

        Here is an example of reason for banning when asked which policy does it contravene.

        Quote from Amazon:- “During our review process, we found that your book contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we will not be offering this book for sale.”

        The specifics are never given, only this. It is then up to writer/publisher to wade through and match content to guidelines, whilst others slip by that may be the same as or more so of whatever it is Amazon have declined as offensive. My personal opinion is customers who have purchased novels, read them and then try to return them for refunds, they put the reason for return down as offensive material. Which to some will be, and to others won’t be. This is obviously subjective and I think Amazon may have a knee jerk reaction that is quite subjective themselves. Match the complaint to contravene their guidelines as it has been flagged by customers as offensive and return to writer/publisher.

        Hope this answers some of the queries regards this issue.

  10. I For one am happy about this. I am a member of both Shelfari (owned by amazon) and Goodreads. I Hope now the shelfari widget mite be offered to wordpress members and i hope it will become a standard option in the wordpress widget options just like Goodreads currently is. No matter what it needed to happen. Shelfari and Goodreads did not need to compete especially considering the fact that most users of both sites have an account for both anyway. ~ Shane

  11. Ex Goodreader

    I sensed several years ago that some online behemoth would buy Goodreads and promptly deleted my GR account. Otis did an interview at the time where he said he admired an indie website that was bought by a big commercial site for I forget how many millions. Around the same time, I started seeing GR reviews pop up on commercial sites. I was fine with my reviews showing up on Worldcat and library sites, but I never signed up to provide free content to for-profit companies.

    I’m quite happy now keeping track of books on my own and discussing them in person with friends and a couple of book clubs.

    • JenLeigh8

      Me too, I don’t leave reviews on Amazon for a reason. Looks like I’ll have to find another ‘independent’ site if I want to leave reviews and make suggestions, but I deleted my account this morning. (Sorry to my 1k friends, I didn’t even say goodbye). Bye GRs

  12. Peter Turner

    Forgive me, but the question as to whether “a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon” will continue to point Goodreads users to retailers other than Amazon is almost as lame as is the mealy-mouthed reply to the question by Otis Chander’s:

    ”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.”

    If you sell out, fine, but don’t soft-peddle the ramifications to you users.

  13. David Thomas

    I suspect this will give Amazon the opportunity to correlate what a person has actually read (or claimed to have read) beyond what the person may actually have purchased (at Amazon) with the type of shoes the person wears.

    On a slightly more serious note, a vendor running afoul of Amazon — and there are many examples — will experience painful across any platform Amazon owns. There is evidence for this in the recent past. I actually hope there is a large enough exodus from GoodReads to make it newsworthy, but given how Amazon shares information, I doubt we’ll ever know for certain.

    Another thing Amazon can and will likely do is pad up the vendor concession cooperative promotion money, extracting more dollars by promising to promote across more platforms.

    • Are you aware that 40% of items sold on amazon’s website are sold by its competitors? As a general corporate cynicism, I’m with you, but Amazon took a huge risk when they opened up their platform to competitors who literally come in and underbid Amazon *on their own items*, and it seems odd to lump them in with everyone else despite that.

      • Peter Turner

        Do you mean 40% of Amazon sales come via affiliates?–not surprizing, though I’m not sure how this relates. None of these affiliates have as much book related customer data as Goodreads. Online marketing is all about very granular customer data; Amazon did one important things with the purchase of Goodreads: It prevented anyone else from getting the Goodreads data.

  14. Vincent

    Interesting he doesn’t comment on the fact they blatantly ripped off content from Amazon’s site for years. I have to wonder if that shady practice didn’t have something to do with this sale. Amazon’s lawyers don’t play around.

  15. bmljenny

    WRT the links to buy items on other sites, I expect these will go away. The popular digital camera site DPReview now only has links to buy the reviewed products on Amazon, while before the acquisition they displayed prices from numerous online retailers so you could do price comparisons. I don’t feel like Amazon exerts any editorial control over the content of the site other than those links.

  16. This is all very interesting. It definitely helps answer a few questions and I hope other people who have been panicking on Twitter will feel either a little more certain in their decision in either staying or leaving Goodreads.
    I guess in my stance, I will have to wait and see how much of my information and how much control I, as the user, has control over.