The Goodreads Bot Problem

From Book Riot:

Goodreads, the popular book cataloging website, functions as a hybrid social media platform and digital library. The social media aspect of Goodreads allows for interaction between users. Users can see their friends’ reviews, reading progress in a book, and even the giveaways friends have entered. The reviews on Goodreads are public, meaning anyone — even those without an account — can access and read reviews.

When anyone does a quick search for book reviews, Goodreads is frequently the first result. The problem with Goodreads being within the first search results for book reviews is that makes the reviews on Goodreads that much more desirable. Goodreads reviews, for many, feel more trustworthy because they are peer written.

For the most part, Goodreads reviewers are average readers. Their reviews are imperfect, full of grammatical errors, gifs, and internet slang. Goodreads users write their reviews in a way that makes sense to them. Some users write reviews for their own cataloging use, others write reviews to be helpful to others, some reviews are simple and short.

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Like many social media platforms, Goodreads can  feel like a competition. In addition to a yearly reading challenge, Goodreads offers stats on their users. Anyone can read and access these stats to see the Top Reviewers and Readers, Most Popular Reviewers, Most Followed, and Top Librarians. It’s a popularity contest no one signed up for. Stats are updated on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and can be sorted by country or worldwide ranking of Goodreads users. It’s important to note that clicking “Meet People,” under the community tab, directs to Most Popular Reviewers, even though it’s in the center of the list. Top Reviewers is second on the Meet People option.

On similar websites, Top Reviewer and Most Popular Reviewer might refer to the same type of ranking, based on community votes or interaction. On Goodreads, however, Top Reviewer refers to number of reviews written within a certain time frame. A Goodreads reviewer can be a Top Reviewer without being a popular one. This type of ranking makes it extremely easy for people and not-people to fake their ranking as Top Reviewers and Top Readers. The Top Readers are simply ranked by number of books read.

Weeding through the weekly Top Reviewers, many profiles appear ordinary. The astonishing number of books read and reviewed per week by the Top Reviewers makes it clear that these profiles are not average, albeit avid, readers. To read 400 books per week, every week, is simply not possible, by human standards. While there is nothing preventing actual people from inputting hundreds of books every week into their Goodreads accounts, there isn’t much of a reason to do so. So, what’s going at Goodreads? 

Bots. Bots are what’s going at Goodreads. Since Goodreads is also used by non-account holders, it is a desirable internet space for advertisers. What happens is that a company or individual will pay for hundreds of positive reviews of their product, so that when a potential buyer sees the reviews, all they see are positive reviews and 5-star ratings. In the case of Goodreads, the product is books. These reviews can be written by a bot or a person with multiple fake accounts.

Top Reviewers’ fake profiles might not always be easy to spot, as they often use stock images as the profile picture, or leave the avatar blank. Their reviews, though are fairly easy to spot. Hundreds of reviews per week? Check. Poor grammar and short reviews? Check. Strange, vague, or unrelated reviews? Check, check, check. If it sounds like the warning label on a blood pressure medication, rather than a review for a regency romance, a bot probably wrote it. Bot reviews are often copied and pasted from another book. Many fake accounts will post multiple reviews of the same book. Going down the list of the Top Reviewers, reviews will often trend towards the same book or topic.

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So why doesn’t Goodreads do anything about the bots, fake profiles, and scammers? Goodreads knows about the scammers. Users are asked to flag the reviews and keep it moving. That seems extremely unhelpful of them. Fake reviews and reviewers are a well-documented phenomenon. Goodreads isn’t the only website filled with profiles named “Keyboard” with blank avatars. In 2019, the popular skincare brand, Sunday Riley settled with the FTC for writing positive reviews on the Sephora website, for over two years. These reviews were written by Sunday Riley employees. Amazon, Goodreads’ parent company, is also riddled with fake reviews.

Amazon shops rely on reviews to get consumers’ attention. Five-star reviews, whether they’re genuine, or from a bot, boost the rating and boost the buying potential. Amazon is the top bookseller in the world, so of course it would want to boost reviews of books. Whether Amazon is paying for the ersatz reviews or it’s another party is unknown, but Goodreads is absolutely swarming with bot accounts. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

9 thoughts on “The Goodreads Bot Problem”

  1. It may be a problem – or a solution – for some kinds of books. If you write that kind, good luck – and be careful it doesn’t bite.

    For other kinds of books, the readers know what to look for, and do: long intelligently written reviews can’t be faked by a bot, not if they refer to the specific story and give you something extra that the book engendered in the reviewer.

  2. So why doesn’t Goodreads do anything about the bots, fake profiles, and scammers?

    So why does anyone go to Goodreads for reviews? Do we know they do? How? How many?

  3. I go to Goodreads for reviews, and I also write a lot of reviews there. At time of writing, I’m ranked 22nd in New Zealand under Top Reviewers, and 42nd under Best Reviewers (which is what Most Popular is actually called; it’s based on the number of recent likes on your reviews).

    My only contact with bots on the site is the “profiles” that make friend requests with the wording “hi” and my user number. There have been quite a few in the past couple of months. I always report them as spam.

    I haven’t noticed botty-looking reviews myself, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they exist.


    Goodreads is a (technical term) “sh*t-show”. A great many of the reviews are weaponized, driven by competing authors and their well-armed cadres.

    As an actual author, you are well advised to do nothing on Goodreads other than make sure all your books are listed, with the proper series order. Do NOT participate in the review-fests or make yourself a visible accessible presence there beyond that minimum, or try to use it as a social site. If you do, people will gang up to create revenge reviews on your books as a way of voicing their ordinary social dislikes (which then transfer over to Amazon). There is no one overviewing the process and no one to complain to.

    Tiptoe very, very lightly there.

    • I keep hearing dire warnings along these lines, but I have never had any such issues. And I’ve been on GR for years, and review very actively.

      Maybe it’s only certain genres, which are not the ones I review, where this problem exists? Or maybe the problem used to exist, but doesn’t any longer (and I somehow managed to dodge it when it existed)?

      • I’ve seen several examples, but managed to avoid it myself. It’s a “girl” thing, mostly, so Romance and woke-ish SFF are prominent it the typical genre categories. I haven’t looked for a while, so perhaps it has improved.

        • Hopefully so. The closest I’ve come to being harassed on GR is when some idiot called me a Harry Potter fangirl because I’d left a 3-star review on a book he liked that was a cheap HP knockoff. I reported the comment and it was removed by (I assume) moderators.

  5. I’ve only had one bad experience with Goodreads, which occurred about a year ago. I wrote a brief negative review of a non-fiction book and received an obscene reply from the author. She was rather clever about it – she wrote the reply, which triggered an e-mail notification to me. She then deleted her reply on GR, which prevented me from reporting her to GR management. So she got her message across without leaving any evidence. The methodology suggested to me that this was not the first time she’d employed this strategy. As a side note the book was not self-published but rather appeared under a BPH imprint.

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