I’ve been trying to form an opinion about the Amazon/Goodreads buyout, and I’ve decided I’m agnositc. Some good may come of it, while it’s possible it will only increase Amazon’s market share, which is already huge.

I’ve been a member of Goodreads for some time, but I’ve only started using it in the last few months. Before that, I ignored every email I got about my “friends” rating or reviewing books because, frankly, I just didn’t care what my friends were reading. I found books to read another way, usually by searching Amazon or via my favorite book review sites.

And when I did start using Goodreads, I found the interface difficult to navigate and hard to read. The text is tiny, even smaller on my large screen desktop computer (the iPad app is much nicer to read, I recently discovered). If I have to strain to read text at a website, I don’t stay long. (I have very bad vision, and recently got special computer glasses that make reading online much easier. Still, the dull interface of Goodreads is a chore to plow through.)

So as far as I’m concerned, Amazon’s influence at the site can only be a plus, at least if they do something about the interface. But I understand people have issues about the ever increasing size and influence of the Bookseller That Rules Them All. What about local bookshops, their dedicated customers ask, and rightly so.

I happen to know that my local bookshop orders special orders from Amazon. It’s a tiny shop, and most of the time when I go in there they don’t have the book I’m looking for. I used to ask them to special order it, but maybe I should subsidize my local shop in a more direct way than by paying more per book. I could just go in and hand over a few pounds every time I go inside. It sounds silly, but it makes about as much sense as paying more each time I order a book. And frankly, that local shop doesn’t do much for me when it comes to meeting my reading needs. The last book I picked up there, on a whim, was so badly written I couldn’t get through the first chapter. Not their fault, but if they’d had the Bernard Cornwell book I was after I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

And in general, I’m just not that into the idea of shopping locally simply to support local retailers (which, now that I think about it, was exactly why I bought that book on a whim: I was trying to support the local shop rather than the Smith’s down the road). If they sell products I’m interested in, sure, I’ll shop there, but if not, then I’ll take my business elsewhere. When the local supermarket was taken over by Sainsbury’s, I quit going there. Sainsbury’s doesn’t have the unique, gourmet, items I would shop the local store for; instead their shelves are filled with same-old, same-old.

Amazon, for all its faults, has plenty of unique content. And they ship to my APO address, which means I can buy books from the US that I can’t otherwise get here. So count me as one person who’s glad Amazon exists, and glad that they make it possible for third-party sellers to sell out-of-print titles that I need for research: it’s a breeze to search for and buy a book on Amazon that in years past would have meant tracking down through an inter-library loan. And theoretically, I could resell the same book later when I’m finished with it. (But I never do, because I hoard books the way some people do cats.)

But back to Goodreads. Will they only include buy links to Amazon from now on? I suspect it will be the other way around: Amazon will likely push Goodreads reviews onto their site, the same way Kobo does currently. And if there’s a buy button on Goodreads now, I haven’t found it. They make it darn near impossible to buy a book from their site, or maybe that link is just too small for me to see.

I’m actually more concerned about the fact that Amazon offers its Kindles at less than the cost to produce them, since they’re a guaranteed revenue stream: buy a Kindle, and you’re certainly going to buy books and other media from Amazon to fill it. That’s the real competition killer; not their purchase of Goodreads.

One day, in a not-so-dystopian future, Barnes and Noble won’t exist at all, and the Nook and Kobo will be oddities found only on Amazon, for sale by a third party seller.

So I suggest we all support our big box book retailer, like Barnes and Noble or Waterstones, if we really want to see competition for Amazon.

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