The Politics of Book Links

When you click on a link of a book title, where do you expect to go? Ever since I started blogging about libraries and books about five years ago, the practice of creating links to books has been almost an existential crisis for me. Blogging is an interactive medium, so of course I want to link out to somewhere, but where?

The default most places on the web seems to be to link to Amazon. For many reasons, this is great. Amazon has loads of bibliographic information about specific titles, along with other book recommendations and the opportunity to buy with as little as one click. As a blogger, I could also use Amazon Affiliates links and even make money from linking to Amazon (full disclosure: I do have an Affiliates account, but do not currently use my links). But as a librarian and book-lover, the Amazon default kills me a little inside. Of course I do buy books from Amazon, but they are clearly a threat to the survival of physical bookstores, both independents and chains, and are well on their way to disrupting the publishing industry in general. Since I care about the continued existence of bookstores and traditional publishers, I choose not to link to Amazon on my blog.

I could instead make my book links go to an independent online bookstore. I’ve seen plenty of blogs and other websites link to Powell’s, an indie chain in Oregon, since they are large and have an extensive online selection. I think this is a fine practice, but I’m not so sure I want to favor one independent bookstore over another.

On the non-bookstore side, I see a few options. The biggest reading social network is Goodreads, which is an obvious choice when linking to a book. I’m an avid Goodreads user and when I’m reading about a book on a blog, it’s so useful to be able to click on the title, go straight to Goodreads, and add the book to my to-read shelf. Goodreads also has heaps of info about the title and links to a whole host of book-buying options. Of course, it’s not so great if you’re not a Goodreads user. Oh, and it’s now owned by Amazon, so it’s contributing to the factors already outlined above. (This does not stop me from using Goodreads though—it’s so useful!) Similar to Goodreads, LibraryThing is another social book site that could be used. While I am a user of the site, I don’t think it’s the best option for regular book links. Its user base is much smaller than Goodreads, so it won’t be as useful or familiar to most blog readers.

Another option I have used extensively on this blog, is Worldcat. This big online library catalog from OCLC provides bibliographic information and links out to other library catalogs based on your location. It also links to a few buying options and pulls in Goodreads reviews. I like linking to Worldcat because I see it as a neutral source and it promotes libraries (bonus!). My one hesitation with Worldcat links is that it’s not very familiar to most people, which could lead to confusion if someone is used to book links going out to Amazon or Goodreads.

I’m still clearly undecided about the best way to link to books from my blog. There are no industry standards for book blogs, so what do others prefer? Am I the only one who lets this issue keep them up at night?

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Book Links”

  1. Usually don’t comment anonymously but feel it’s a good idea here.

    I have a website where I link to amazon when referring to books (and I do use affiliate links because it takes me hours of time a month to keep my website up and running and the little bit of money I make off it helps).

    I received complaints that I linked to amazon and not to indiebound, so about a year ago, I added those links as well.

    In the past year, I’ve had thousands of clicks to both links.

    I have made ZERO dollars in Indiebound referrals. There have been clicks so I know the links are working.

    I’m going to keep the links; there’s no harm in them being there. But I think it’s clear that a lot of the outrage against linking to amazon is theoretical rather than practical. Offering the links to Indiebound isn’t resulting in sales.

  2. If it works for you, I have no problem with bloggers linking to Amazon and making some money off of it!

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