Almost Everything About Goodreads Is Broken

From OneZero:

Goodreads, the largest literary social media network, should be a good gathering place for readers. It is one of the only online communities for people who like to read books, but the service’s apparent monopoly seems to have stopped it from innovating, based on complaints from users and, well, basic observation. As a result, readers don’t have a good, central online community where they can discuss favorite novels or dish about exciting new releases; authors and publishers don’t have a reliable, trustworthy way to promote their books and interact with fans; book clubs and literary publications don’t have a good way to use the site to gain members and foster discussions.

What Goodreads is good for is keeping your own list of books you want to read or have read this year. It’s a list-making app. And while that’s useful, it doesn’t live up to the company’s full promise of being a haven for readers. Readers and authors deserve a better online community. And while Amazon has at least some nominal interest in improving many of its other products — Alexa, for example, becomes more advanced with each passing year — Goodreads lingers in the dustbin of the early aughts, doomed to the hideous beige design and uninspiring organization of a strip mall doctor’s office.

“It’s just really clunky and slow,” says Dustin Martin, a reader, Goodreads user, and software engineer. “Even having the resources of Amazon behind it, the site feels like a relic, an early web 2.0 sort of deal. I don’t think I’ve seen real improvement or new features since I started using the site in 2014.”

Martin brings up the difficulty of searching for books, a feature that numerous other frustrated Goodreads users complained to me about: The search tool is not intuitive, and if the user makes any mistakes, the book may not come up in Goodreads search at all. Even when a book or author is accurately entered into the search bar, the correct result is often, inexplicably, at the bottom of a list following 10 irrelevant other books.

. . . .

And while Goodreads calls itself “the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations,” many of the 18 or so people I spoke to for this story insisted that, in fact, Goodreads is nearly useless for finding recommendations. “For some reason, Goodreads seems to attract an audience of people with insanely bland and entry-level taste,” Martin says. He points to the site’s Best Books Ever list, which includes Harry Potter, high school curriculum novels, and copious YA. “That would be fine if it didn’t seem to poison the site’s recommendation algorithm, which in my experience is entirely useless.” Gaby, a journalist who requested that only her first name be used because she’s not allowed to speak with press, agrees. “It’s generally not a good place to find new things to read,” she says. “The recommendations suck, the lists suck — it’s like, 100 lists telling me to read The Handmaid’s Tale and Harry Potter.”

Link to the rest at OneZero


PG never really got into Goodreads, so he’s not in a position to know whether the OP is right, wrong or partially right and partially wrong.

Feel free to critique in the comments.

16 thoughts on “Almost Everything About Goodreads Is Broken”

  1. Speaking as someone with a hyper-organized mind, Goodreads has always been a site that makes my head hurt, and nothing has improved there for well over a decade.

    Not only is the data ill-managed, with tons of duplication and dirty entries, but it also contains the largest fever swamp of trolls found on this side of the jungle. If you are an author, and you say anything, anything at all, the weaponized attack squadron will be all over you, with active intent of harrying you on other sites as well, where possible.

    As an author, the most you can do is maintain a page with a list of your books and series. Do not interact.

    As a reader, god help you find any meaningful discussion.

  2. The recommendation function is definitely not useful. It also lists books like a librarian would, where the hardback is different from the paperback. A reader only cares about the story and not the edition. Too many of the recommendations are old and crusty, or have no rational connection to books I’ve read.

    Also from my author’s page there is no way to tell if any of my books has had a new recent review or comment. I have to look at each book in turn. I also can’t make the default cover art be the most recent version. (I understand keeping the old art for reference, but for new readers it’s confusing).

    If they have done any improvements at all since being acquired, I haven’t noticed.

  3. I goes well with Windows 95. Good luck trying to update one of your books that someone else added.

  4. I am an occasional visitor to the site. I’ve never had any problem finding the book I’m looking for reviews on – I put in title or author and the right book – or author – come up. Maybe I’ve always been looking for unique titles, I dunno.

    i use for checking reviews if I want more than I find on Amazon. For that is’s ok. I do wish I could see reviews and comments to them all at once, without having to click more, but whatever. I don’t visit often enough for it to be a problem.

    Mostly I don’t see the point of the site, except as a central gathering for reviews.

    • I suspect Amazon bought it because it was attracting a critical mass of reviews and it might expand into something bigger. Amazon’s crowd-sourced book reviews are a big competitive advantage. An independent goodreads site might de-prioritize the Amazon link (which is separate and prominent) or even try selling books itself, or, god forbid, sell itself to a competitor who would suddenly have an attractive repository of reviews. There’s no other good reason for Amazon to spend money on IP that duplicates what they already have, and plenty of good reason to let it wallow in the status-quo.

      • Worse, somebody else could buy it and turn it into a bookstore.
        The “customer base” wouldn’t go to a competitor.
        Sort-of like when tbey bought Diapers.com: a proactive, defensive move.

  5. I dislike it a lot. I have a profile there and update it and my books occasionally (with extreme difficulty. Why is it so hard for authors to use?) and I seem to have linked my blog to it so posts show up there. But I don’t do competitive reading, don’t care how many books I’ve read this year and have enough to do lists in my life already without making one of life’s pleasures into a task.

  6. If we look at Amazon’s behavior regarding Good Reads, it’s reasonable to speculate they bought it to neutralize it. Seems to have worked.

  7. The one thing on GR that kinda works for me is the Groups. I’m a member of a few, and I started one called Book Cover Reviews that has had some interesting threads. We’ve got about 200 members (modest by GR standards), and only about a handful comment with regularity, but I’ve gotten some good feedback on my cover design drafts, and have (hopefully) contributed to others looking for advice on their covers, whether self- or outside-designed.

    Check it out: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/167105-book-cover-reviews

    • I generally avoid Goodreads (and social media) like the plague (new metaphor needed?) but this group is really intereting. I’ll keep an eye on it, thanks.
      I hope the barbarians don’t swarm you…

      • Thanks. No barbarians yet. Probably too small to catch much notice by the swarm. If and when they attack, I’ll just shut it down. I was trying to do a little “give back” with this. We’ll see.

    • This is the first usable use-case I’ve seen for Goodreads! I didn’t know anyone used the site that way. I’ve bookmarked your link, because I will want to do a little A-B cover test later. My cover artist contacted me out of the blue, because she made an update of my cover art and wanted to give it to me. Now I have delightful dilemma.

      Best wishes for your group.

  8. One thing Goodreads has is – surprise! – readers.

    I would like to be able to use it for research into readers’ tastes – but there is no way to search on, say, readers who gave Jane Eyre 4-5* and The Thorn Birds 4-5*, which would allow me to see what authors/novels those readers liked.

    I have received some of my best reviews from people I’ve met over books on GR – and I know it’s not a site for authors to get useful information from, and certainly not for us to get reviews on (especially not for authors to request reviews on), but there is so much data it makes me drool.

    I know exactly what searches I would like to do – if I could – in the interest of improving the work, and getting it to the right readers, the ones who complain X, Y, and Z books are substandard.

    • but there is no way to search on, say, readers who gave Jane Eyre 4-5* and The Thorn Birds 4-5*,

      That would be a very cool and useful service for Goodreads to offer. Even if they’re biased against writers, I could make a case for that as a reader.

      • I can probably figure out a way to do it manually, or with a program of some kind – but it would take a huge amount of effort, and I’m in the middle of writing.

        Remember when the Data Guy created a spider to do that on Amazon?

        • Oh yeah, Data Guy. I used to work with someone who created spiders like that. Too bad there aren’t any freelance “data slingers” for hire. I can see uses for that service.

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