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The Problem With Goodreads

I’m sure we’ve all heard it. Reviews are for readers.

As a reader, I believe it, and as any smart author will tell you, you better obey it.

Readers need to be able to read or DNF (do not finish) any and all books they pick up, and share it with their friends and any unsuspecting browser. We used to have local book clubs, flyers, and book tours, and with the expansion of our ability to market to people, so has the ability of readers to share their favorites. Which is good.

There has to be a balance between the power of the publishers and the readers; between marketing and reviews, even in the era of self-publishing. However, we continue to see-saw, due largely to a single entity.

Give Goodreads its proper respect. It is the world’s largest review site, with over 100 million members and 90 million reviews, and shapes the opinions of readers and drives sales.

Mostly because it started before any of the others thought about it. Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler jumped on books as a social networking mechanism, taking a flying leap to become a behemoth.

Which is why the Leviathan bought them. (nom nom)

That reach makes it wonderful for readers, but forces itself on authors, creating a power imbalance from the start between the two key stakeholders that Goodreads claims to serve. An imbalance that sets up conflict and pits them against one another, only benefiting Goodreads in a system they will not fix.

Goodreads allows readers to rate and review books, create and categorize shelves, create and join book clubs, create lists, and interact with other readers and authors. It serves up recommendations based on liked books, and other users you follow, allowing users to find a vast number of new books in a short amount of time. In fact, the ability to connect with like-minded readers and discover new books has been a key part of its growth over the years.

However, there aren't many controls on the reader. There are policies, but enforcement is spotty in most cases.

Readers can post an author’s book without permission. One star books that aren’t published. Name shelves in any manner they please, no matter how insulting. Post personally vile reviews against the policies and Goodreads librarians leave them up.

And Goodreads review mobs, just like Twitter mobs, exist. I’m pretty sure they’re the same people many times, having watched the frenzy on each translate from one site to the other to sink a book or an author.

Now some will say, tough shit, author. Get thicker skin.

Okay, Cartman.

I’m aware you have a right to free speech, but Amazon, in fact, invites the authors to Goodreads. And while a desire to share their favorite books and contribute to the community of readers may motivate the average user, that's not true for everyone, and Goodreads can’t expect authors to support the site while trolls are allowed to harass them at every bridge.

Manners alone say it's unacceptable for Goodreads to ask for the support of author money, while allowing the above issues. Not with the way reviews impact sales and shape the PR of books and authors.

Now I’m not saying critical reviews are bad or that authors don’t deserve them. Some books suck and bad reviews can be amazing for sales. But hate reviews and mobbing isn’t okay, and neither is the neglect of Amazon regarding the asset they purchased.

And it’s not just that there’s tension between reviewers’ freedom of expression and authors’ rights to protect their work and careers, it’s the complete lack of responsibility from Amazon.

Goodreads claims to have policies to support both sides, but they’re fig leaves at best, leaving the average reviewer open to authors behaving badly which happens far too often, with no ability to restrict, mute, or punish them for their hideous behavior, which has led to horrific online abuse, damage to bloggers businesses, and worse, actual stalking.

Worse, Goodreads has enabled authors who have hunted reviewers down, to then write about their criminal conduct and post those books on the site, thereby benefiting from their lack of controls.

Between the attacks by people with platforms on innocent reviewers and review mobs purposely tanking books, there is a fundamental problem with every mechanism on Goodreads. A problem that reviewers and authors need to see for what it is.

That those using the site for something other than what it was meant for are benefiting from the wild west approach, and the rest are getting hit with ricochets.

Which means disarming everyone and getting back to the core purpose.

The discussion and sharing of books.

I.E. If it’s not about the book, take that shit to another site.

I know. Shocking someone says your personal grudges belong on other social media sites, but if one person’s problematic behavior gets to be brought to Goodreads, everybody’s does. And no one wants that.

They need to rebalance the power on Goodreads to protect both sides from abuse on the site in order to promote fair and ethical reviews and avoid the personal attacks. Leaving readers to read and review honestly is key for them to mean any-damn-thing, and since reviews are crucial for authors in terms of book sales and building their professional reputation, authors need that. But if Goodreads wants to be more than the cesspool it is seen as now, it’ll need to fix the issues facing both reviewers and authors.

The two parties they invited to the dance.

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