Once, when I was a bookseller, I sent out an April Fool’s fax announcing that a German conglomerate was buying Random House and was turning it into a cog in a quest for worldwide media domination. It seemed so preposterous that it was funny, until it happened a couple years later.
I wanted to do an April Fool’s blog post today but Goodreads and Amazon beat me to the punch. And we don’t even have to wait to find out the joke is on us!
I’m not usually very big on sharing lists and book reviews. They bother me for the same reasons book clubs do- for me, reading is mainly a solitary experience and I cherish that. I will respond to recommendations from friends and booksellers if they come at me in a haphazard, serendipitous way, but I’ve always been suspicious of attempts to formalize what I guess we now have to call discoverability.
But I’d slowly been won over to Goodreads because it seemed clean, neutral, and because a growing number of bookseller friends have been posting their interesting reading lists and it was a convenient place to check in on them.
Convenient, but not essential. Which is why it won’t be a great sacrifice to delete my account.
One of the clever things about social media is that it facilitates backlash when something ugly or sneaky is underway, and I can’t think of anything nastier right now in the book world than the prospect of this behemoth acquiring even more intimate knowledge of my buying habits than it already has. Enough is enough.
I don’t begrudge the Goodreads entrepreneurs their decision to sell. The phrase “social media” may imply some sort of common good philosophy, outside the reach of filthy lucre. But like everything else under capitalism, even a somewhat charming and innocent website for aggregating reading lists has its price. Sure, partnering with indie booksellers, libraries, book media or other players would have been more in keeping with that collaborative ethos so bragged on by young techie entrepreneurs. But then, money is money.
Selling out is an old story. I remember twenty years ago when the owner of a much beloved eccentric retail institution in Milwaukee, a drug store with a lunch counter that attracted a spectacular clientele (more here) sold his store to a mega chain. Jaws dropped all over town, how was this possible? But it happened, and, as many fans predicted, nothing remotely like it ever surfaced again.
So Happy April Fool’s Day everybody. And if you’re a Goodreads user who will follow the site into Amazonland, good luck with that. Me, I’m going to sharpen my book-scouting skills by keeping my eyes and ears open in what are still the best places to pick up reading ideas-bookstores.
As I said in my now deleted Goodreads profile:
I think of the staff at my favorite neighborhood store as “my booksellers” the way one might have a tailor or a gardener or a masseur (none of which I have.) They know me well enough to suggest things I didn’t know I wanted, and I know their tastes well enough to take note when I see them recommending something out of my usual arena, thus expanding my horizons in a way “Customers Like You Also Bought” is incapable of doing. And the chance to eavesdrop on book chat among other staff and customers affords other book avenues for exploration.
[By the way, if you want to save your booklists from Goodreads before deleting them, go to “import/export” under My Books and you can download them into an excel spreadsheet. “Delete my account” is at the bottom of Settings.]