Amazon Buys Goodreads, A Possible Step Toward Getting More Social

Could Amazon be going social? The online retailer announced today that it has reached an agreement to acquire Goodreads, which bills itself as the world's largest online community for book recommendations. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

According to the official statement:

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.

Goodreads was founded in 2007 and claims 16 million members, 30,000 book clubs and over 23 million book reviews. The site is free to join. Members can join multiple book clubs, list the books they are currently reading, provide detailed recommendations on books, and share their reading lists and preferences with others on the site. Goodreads also has its own recommendation engine which it claims "analyzes 20 billion data points" to provide book recommendations to members.

What The Deal Might Portend

As a result of the acquisition, of course, Amazon will have even more intimate access to Goodreads' avid readers, who in turn could serve as a receptive audience should Amazon want to offer book-discount deals or to hook more readers on its Kindle eReader line. Amazon's reach could also help expand the Goodreads community, assuming it retains its current form.

Perhaps more interesting is the possibility that Amazon might use Goodreads as a core from which to build out its own new social community. The online retailer's social presence to date is mostly limited to its voluminous customer reviews and ephemera such as users' personal — and often idiosyncratic — themed "lists" of books, movies, music or other products.

Goodreads, by contrast, allows its users to connect directly with each other a la Facebook or LinkedIn. Readers can join book-discussion groups and share recommendations, reviews, books they've read and enjoyed -- or hated -- and their "want to read" lists. Authors, meanwhile, can interact directly with readers, often via setting up the online equivalent of a book signing.

On a strictly commercial basis, Amazon will get access to the Goodreads recommendation engine, presumably with an eye toward upgrading — or even replacing — its own. The acquisition will also most likely supply Amazon with lots of new reader data to study for trends and sales opportunities.

Goodreads also offers authors a number of free tools to promote their own works and interact directly with readers, which could supplement Amazon's own self-publishing and e-book efforts. 

What Might Change As A Result Of The Deal

Right now, the Goodreads site makes it relatively easy for users to download or purchase books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other sites. It's sort of hard to imagine that Amazon will continue to allow links to non-Amazon stores going forward. Likewise, it's entirely possible that Amazon might begin, let's say, encouraging Goodreads members to sign in using Amazon IDs.

Similarly, it remains unclear whether Amazon will leave the Goodreads site itself largely untouched, or whether Amazon plans over time to assimilate -- OK, "integrate" -- it more closely with its main e-commerce site. We do know that Goodreads will continue to maintain its headquarters in San Francisco, which suggests that -- as with Amazon's Zappos acquisition -- the retailer intends to keep Goodreads as an independent entity. 

Goodreads CEO and co-founder Otis Chandler announced the acquisition on the site:

When Elizabeth and I started Goodreads from my living room seven years ago, we set out to create a better way for people to find and share books they love. It's been a wild ride seeing how the company has grown and watching as more than 16 million readers from across the globe have joined Goodreads and connected over a passion for books. 

Mr. Chandler also stated that he wanted to "bring the Goodreads experience" to the Kindle, though he provided no additional details as to how that might work. Goodreads and its community features are already available on iPhone, iPad and Android, as well as the Web.

The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2013.

Image screencapped from an Amazon Kindle commercial