Call it the "Barnes and Noble effect" of the virtual book world: Amazon is expanding its empire by gobbling up another smaller online book operation.
Amazon has worked out a deal to acquire Shelfari, a social network built for book sharing. Shelfari doesn't actually sell books, but rather allows users to create "virtual bookshelves" to share titles and reviews with others.
The move comes just a few weeks after Amazon announced the acquisition of AbeBooks, an independent used and out-of-print bookseller. Things get a little dicey there, as AbeBooks owned a stake in LibraryThing -- a competitor to Shelfari. Amazon appears poised to pour its resources into Shelfari, so yet to be seen is what will happen to LibraryThing as a result.
So why call it the "Barnes and Noble effect"? It's simple: Cities used to be full of small, locally-owned bookstores. Then came the big Barnes and Noble stores, filled with every book imaginable and so much more. Now, you're hard-pressed to find one independent mom-and-pop bookstore in most communities -- at least, that's been my experience in the couple of cities I've lived in since that era. Not to say it's all bad -- Barnes and Noble and the comparable competitors are great stores and I certainly frequent and enjoy them -- but it's still sad to see so many of the smaller, locally-owned stores disappear, unable to keep up with the corporate competition.
At least in this case, Amazon seems to be keeping the smaller entities running as their own standalone operations...so even if they're losing the independent spirit, they're not vanishing altogether. Maybe in these instances, they'll even get stronger as a result.