By Shawn Stjean
An old bestselling book, from the 1970s, featured a hand controlling marionette strings in its logo, indicating how manipulation becomes second nature to those in power. I’d like to offer an image that accords better with today’s book news. For those of you whose talents lie more in visual analysis than in literary, look abstractly at the photo-logo above–ask yourself, what other series of upright oblongs, when stacked in series, topples easily with the right application of very little energy? (answers at bottom)
For us self-appointed oversight-eers, keeping an eye on the Amazon.com A-to-Z monopoly has become something of a full-time hobby. They’ve done self-published writers a lot of good with their CreateSpace program, and their big (and free-to-enter) Breakthrough Novel Award contest is currently underway, though the jury is still out on whether the KDP Select program is a boon for exposure of obscure authors, or a cheap parlor-trick designed to put Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble out of business, by locking up the new talent into an exclusivity contract for months at a time (see more on the pitfalls here and here).
And now they’ve added GoodReads to the “family,” as GR co-founder Otis Chandler put it in this announcement on their blog. Immediate reactions (only within the last few hours) from the membership have been mixed, to put it mildy. They range from a sense of outrage and betrayal, to genuine enthusiasm. Many of the concerns mention money as the primary motivation behind such a merger, and echo the sentiment that Amazon has become too big, grasping for anything and everything it can chew and swallow. Others are comparing AZ to Wal-Mart, and still others wonder what will become of AZ’s own Shelfari. So what will this mean for the “Good Guys'” mammoth independent sharing site many of us have loved for years now? Will AZ influence the reviews on GR, now that their interference in their own reviews, taking thousands off their site arbitrarily and without explanation, has become legend among authors? Will GR become a venue for sales that profit the corporate bean-counters? Will the planned integration of GR with the proprietary Kindle platform mean some books will become “more available,” “better-rated,” or suddenly more popular than others? Will the Listopia voting scheme be affected?
It’s hard not to be happy for Otis and Elizabeth, if they are indeed doing well out of this deal. Capitalism pays off the smart and good folks who’ve worked hard sometimes, as well as the ruthless and backstabbing pirates (when you link to their photo, you’ll agree its not possible to cast them in the latter role). I’m going to assume that what they’re claiming is true: that they think this will improve the experience for the membership.
Personally, as a small publisher/indie author, I’ve felt safer with GR out there before today, as if there still weren’t an offer AZ could make that I couldn’t refuse. Havens still exist, of course: Lightning Source, for one, though they don’t host e-books. Problem is, those that do are not in the strongest position: Barnes & Noble’s Nook series of electronic readers, though a stellar bunch of devices, is looking like a financial e-albatross. Smashwords is already in bed with Amazon, too. Don’t even bring up the audiobook market.
“Divide and Conquer”–the old strategy has turned itself inside-out, has transmogrified into “Combine and Conquer.”
Is it time yet to go to the mattresses? (if that film reference isn’t familiar, you might be able to just catch The Godfather on Netflix, before Amazon absorbs that, too.