Amazon is the king of online booksellers and, by most accounts, the most feared player in publishing. Yet last week it shelled out a reported $150 million to buy up Goodreads, a social network for book nerds with a devoted but far from enormous 16 million members. So why is most of the media convinced this is a brilliant deal?
You've probably heard a few of the answers already. Namely, Amazon gets to keep a potential competitor out of the hands of rivals like Apple or Barnes and Noble, while snapping up a vast trove of data on Goodreads members.
But there's a more fundamental issue at play here, too. Today, the publishing industry survives on super fans—bookworms who read far more than most Americans, and who tell their friends what to read as well. By picking up Goodreads, Amazon gets to tap into those super fans. Simple.
The United States is not, sadly, a country of lit buffs. In 2008, a little more than half of all American adults reported reading a book that was not required for work or school during the past year, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. And as shown in the graph below, which like the other charts in this piece come courtesy of the industry researchers at Codex Group and updates the sample data to match the 2010 Census, just 19 percent read a dozen or more titles.