The Implications of the GoodReads Acquisition by Amazon

The publishing industry is dynamic and volatile. New sales numbers come out all the time that hint at the fate of print vs. ebooks. It changes every day and it makes it difficult for authors (and publishers/agents) to determine how the market will shape the industry. But every once in a while, the industry is impacted by something other than the market. Every once in a while, a strategic move to gain a competitive advantage can seal the fate for brick and mortar stores, and subsequently print books.

On 3/27/2013, Amazon announced that it is purchasing the enormously popular book recommendation site: GoodReads. As long as you have a minimum of 20 book reviews/ratings in your account, GoodReads will recommend new books to you based on your preferences. In addition, it is a social networking platform for readers and authors. Since GoodReads is a highly referenced site for its book reviews and ratings, this (in conjunction with its recommendation engine) will undoubtedly be leveraged by Amazon to funnel more purchases their way.

This acquisition will practically dictate that consumers become dependent upon the book reviews and recommendations from Amazon. Statistics 101 will tell you that the larger your sample size (the more reviews on a single book), the more accurate the average rating will be. Then consumers will literally be a click away from a purchase on Amazon.

“How does this affect print books?”  you ask. Well, with GoodReads providing their users with the eventual convenience of purchasing the books that are recommended to them from Amazon, more sales will be funneled to Amazon. This means that less sales are funneled to Barnes & Noble. If B&N begins to lose revenue, we may begin to see their lower performing stores closing their doors. Since the traditional publishing industry’s backbone relies on brick and mortar stores to keep their engine running (with B&N being the largest component), the amount of print books purchased by retailers will drop significantly.

What do you guys think about how this will change the industry? Please leave your comments below.

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Book Review: A Clash of Kings

RATING: 5/5 Stars

OVERVIEW: A Clash of Kings is book 2 of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. It’s a fantasy novel that is targeted toward an adult audience. Each chapter is in the perspective of a different character and follows multiple story lines.

PLOT: After the death of the king in book one, now everyone is claiming a right to the throne. There are five self proclaimed kings that fight for the throne of Westeros, all the while the Stark family is torn apart and separated, struggling to regroup if only just to see each other once more. During the chaos of war, Daenerys (the Mother of Dragons) continues to struggle to find ships and an army to carry her across the sea to retake the iron throne.

REVIEW: First, I must commend George R. R. Martin for his vast, extensive detailing of characters and their histories. To have written this novel would have required a mountain of preparation to do it as well as he does. Furthermore, the scale of character detail for an entire continent is immense and impressive.

Second, GRRM’s writing is top tier. He has done so much research into the medieval era that he has brought that historical knowledge to life in his writing.

As far as entertainment value is concerned, I was extremely pleased throughout reading this novel. There was more magic and fantasy elements in this book compared to the first. (It wasn’t abundant, but GRRM knows how to tastefully pepper it in). I found that the chapters for certain characters excited me more than others (such as Jon, Bran, and Arya). The Tyrion and Daenerys chapters were always interesting to me, but the others didn’t catch my fancy so much (ex. Sansa, Caitlin, Davos, and Theon). My only real gripe is that this book really lacked an ending. I had thought the same for book one (Game of Thrones), but this one was worse. There wasn’t a true ending to the story; the story was still alive and open with no closure to really bring it home. But considering this is just book 2 out of 7, it isn’t really an issue.

This is a novel that I would highly recommend to any reader, even those that are not fans of the fantasy genre. As this could technically be considered “low fantasy” (meaning there is not a lot of fantasy elements mixed in compared to traditional swords & sorcery books), any person looking for a good read would appreciate this series of books. Even if you get lost with the world or in the large cast of characters, GRRM provides a map and appendixes at the back of the book for reference. As far as what one would expect from a 5 star rated book, this book (and his series) sets the bar for excellence. You won’t be disappointed.

Become More Active, Join A Critique Group

As I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier posts, reading is essential to being a good writer. (Do you think there ever was a successful band that didn’t listen to other music?) So to continue to improve your “chops” in addition to reading, you should become a reviewer. Either join Goodreads.com and write lengthy reviews of the books you have read, or join a Critique group (I did both). However, the critique group will improve your analytic skill, and open your eyes. You will learn to know good writing when you see it because you are not reading final drafts that have undergone professional editing.

Critters Writer’s Workshop (critters.org) is a free online sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writing critique group. While it is free, they mandate your participation. If you are not actively submitting critiques to other author’s short stories or chapters, then they will delete your membership. On top of that, they have “pro” members, such as SFWA Chapter Presidents and Nebula Award winner Ken Liu. They were established in 1995 and have over 15,000 members and are still growing.

Being that it is online can cause some uneasiness. “What if my original work gets stolen?” you might ask. They are huge advocates of the Copyright law. It is posted heavily, and there hasn’t been any problems with that yet. FYI, the protections afforded to you under the U.S. Copyright law apply as soon as you put something original on paper, so your work is already protected and there is no need to file with the USPTO. Your alternate choice is to join local in-person critique groups, but you usually have to have something to share in front of the group (which you might not always have) and they critique you on the spot. The benefit of this being online is that I can take my time with my review before I send it in.

Critters allows you to submit your entire novel too, and members can elect to become part of a dedicated reading group for your novel. The point is, they have a really good system, and I highly recommend joining if you write in the fiction genres aforementioned.

As an active member of Critters Writer’s Workshop, I had the pleasure to submit my completed fantasy short story: The Ravenous Flock. I wrote it to a fair length of 5,000 words, which I believe is optimal for submitting to magazines (which they state on their websites), though most short stories that I have read and reviewed are around 7,500 words. Once submitted, you get added to the queue (unless you are “pro” then you go to the front of the line). The queue is so long that it usually results in your manuscript being read 3-4 weeks from when you had submitted it. (Not bad). When I receive feedback, I’ll post my opinion of how helpful or not helpful this process was.

I’ll leave you with this final note: Short Stories are a different beast. Mark Twain once said, “I don’t have time to write you a short letter, so I’ll write you a long one instead.” Terry Brooks also said, “Writing a short story was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He would rather have a 500 page project any day.” So when I read one of Ken Liu’s short stories on Critters.org and saw it was only 750 words, I was impressed. Then I began reading it…. it had a never ending comma… the whole 3 paragraph story was one sentence. I felt beyond inadequate; I felt unworthy… and it really opened my eyes. And I hope all new writers have the opportunity to experience the same. So go join a critique group!