Yesterday it was announced that Amazon will be purchasing Goodreads next quarter. I’m not sure how to react to this news, because I love Goodreads. I loved its independence, the community, and the interface. While I am an Amazon customer (no independent bookstores closer than an hour away), I don’t need Amazon taking over every website I use. They already own all or part of Shelfari and Librarything, which is one reason I don’t use either site.
But what upsets me the most about the sale is that I encourage my students to use Goodreads. It was independent and not tied to any major retailer, so I was comfortable recommending it. It also allows my students to grow as they move through school and eventually graduate. The few other book social networking communities I tried out were aimed at kids and my students would eventually age out of them. While this may seem like a silly thing for me to worry about, it’s important that my students find a community of readers that can stay with them as long as they are willing to participate.
When I taught 6th grade, I always shared Goodreads with my students and encouraged them to join (with their parents’ permission). Many of them did. It’s been over 6 years since I first started recommending the site and I still hear from many of those students. There is an ebb and flow to the site, allowing members to pick up where they left off, without any pressure or judgement. In the last few months I have been contacted by 5 former students, ranging from 8th grade to current juniors in high school, who have become active on Goodreads again.
One of those students told me she was looking up a book her friend was reading and the search results included Goodreads. She remembered using the site with me, clicked on it, and soon she was adding books to her “want to read” shelf and reminiscing over the list of books she last updated in 7th grade. I now see her adding books a few times a week and she even recommended a book to me! The power of a reading community is stronger than most people realize and too many students (and adults) lack access to one in the flesh. Too many of my former students tell me that they haven’t heard a booktalk since leaving my classroom, haven’t had a teacher recommend a book that wasn’t canon since being with me, and no longer remember how to find books on their own. And how can we expect them to keep reading if no one is providing them with the opportunity to find and read books?
That’s why I love Goodreads. I love that current and former students can message me about books. I love that our school book club can have conversations between meetings. I love that I can model my reading life and passion for all of my students (current and former) in an unobtrusive manner. And I love that there is no commercial tie-in. We are surrounded by ads all day and Goodreads was a welcome respite from that. Sure, there are banner ads and such, but they were book-related and usually lead to a publisher’s official site or an author’s blog. They didn’t lead me to an Amazon order page.
Goodreads is about community and passionate readers. It’s not about making a buck. At least, it’s not about making a buck for me. Sadly, it seems to be about money for the founders. I can’t blame them for that, of course. But I do wish they had offered the users of Goodreads an option. Maybe we would have been willing to kick in money to keep the site independent! I’d even be ok with publishers buying into the site. But a single retailer? That’s harder for me to digest.
We have a while before anything changes because the sale doesn’t close until next quarter. I’m not going to stop using Goodreads and I hope I won’t have to in the future. But I will be watching carefully. And in the meantime, I think I will be doing what author Kate Messner suggests. We can support other retailers, especially indie bookstores, in the reviews we post. But my students and I will keep using Goodreads, while crossing our fingers that the community isn’t destroyed by Amazon. Because the community is what drew me to the site and it’s why I share it with my students. Losing that would be a shame.