The Filter Bubble Eats the Book World

Last week Amazon purchased Goodreads the online book review site. Since 2007 Goodreads has grown to become home to over 16 million members who share a passion for discovering and sharing great literature. Now, with Amazon’s acquisition many are concerned that this represents another step towards a monolithic and monopolistic enterprise that controls vast swathes of the market. While Amazon’s innovation has upended the bricks-and-mortar worlds of publishing and retailing, its increasingly dominant market power raises serious concerns over access, distribution and choice. This is another worrying example of the so-called filter bubble — where increasingly edited selections and personalized recommendations act to limit and dumb-down content.

From the Guardian:

“Truly devastating” for some authors but “like finding out my mom is marrying that cool dude next door that I’ve been palling around with” for another, Amazon’s announcement late last week that it was buying the hugely popular reader review site Goodreads has sent shockwaves through the book industry.

The acquisition, terms of which Amazon.com did not reveal, will close in the second quarter of this year. Goodreads, founded in 2007, has more than 16m members, who have added more than four books per second to their “want to read” shelves over the past 90 days, according to Amazon. The internet retailer’s vice president of Kindle content, Russ Grandinetti, said the two sites “share a passion for reinventing reading”.

“Goodreads has helped change how we discover and discuss books and, with Kindle, Amazon has helped expand reading around the world. In addition, both Amazon and Goodreads have helped thousands of authors reach a wider audience and make a better living at their craft. Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike,” said Grandinetti, announcing the buy. Goodreads co-founder Otis Chandler said the deal with Amazon meant “we’re now going to be able to move faster in bringing the Goodreads experience to millions of readers around the world”, adding on his blog that “we have no plans to change the Goodreads experience and Goodreads will continue to be the wonderful community we all cherish”.

But despite Chandler’s reassurances, many readers and authors reacted negatively to the news. American writers’ organisation the Authors’ Guild called the acquisition a “truly devastating act of vertical integration” which meant that “Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable”. Bestselling legal thriller author Scott Turow, president of the Guild, said it was “a textbook example of how modern internet monopolies can be built”.

“The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat,” said Turow. “With its 16 million subscribers, Goodreads could easily have become a competing online bookseller, or played a role in directing buyers to a site other than Amazon. Instead, Amazon has scuttled that potential and also squelched what was fast becoming the go-to venue for online reviews, attracting far more attention than Amazon for those seeking independent assessment and discussion of books. As those in advertising have long known, the key to driving sales is controlling information.”

Turow was joined in his concerns by members of Goodreads, many of whom expressed their fears about what the deal would mean on Chandler’s blog. “I have to admit I’m not entirely thrilled by this development,” wrote one of the more level-headed commenters. “As a general rule I like Amazon, but unless they take an entirely 100% hands-off attitude toward Goodreads I find it hard to believe this will be in the best interest for the readers. There are simply too many ways they can interfere with the neutral Goodreads experience and/or try to profit from the strictly volunteer efforts of Goodreads users.”

But not all authors were against the move. Hugh Howey, author of the smash hit dystopian thriller Wool – which took off after he self-published it via Amazon – said it was “like finding out my mom is marrying that cool dude next door that I’ve been palling around with”. While Howey predicted “a lot of hand-wringing over the acquisition”, he said there were “so many ways this can be good for all involved. I’m still trying to think of a way it could suck.”

Read the entire article following the jump.

Image: Amazon.com screen. Courtesy of New York Times.

15 thoughts on “The Filter Bubble Eats the Book World”

  1. I’m no longer positive the place you are getting your info, but good
    topic. I must spend some time studying much more
    or understanding more. Thank you for fantastic information I
    was on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  2. Have you ever thought about writing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?

    I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to
    have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would value your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me
    an e-mail.

  3. Fine way of telling, and fastidious article to get information regarding my
    presentation focus, which i am going to convey in college.

  4. Howdy! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering
    if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?

    I’m using the same blog platform as yours
    and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

  5. certainly like your web site however you need to take a
    look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and
    I to find it very troublesome to tell the reality on the other hand I’ll surely come
    again again.

  6. I am really impressed together with your writing abilities and also with the layout on your blog.

    Is that this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to peer a nice weblog like this one today..

  7. First of all I want to say great blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do
    not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior
    to writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.
    I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first
    10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any recommendations or hints? Thank you!

  8. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult
    to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and
    visual appearance. I must say that you’ve done a fantastic job with this.
    Additionally, the blog loads very fast for me on Internet explorer.
    Outstanding Blog!

  9. I would like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing
    this site. I’m hoping to view the same high-grade content by you later on as well.

    In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.