The Wrath of Goodreads

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From The Atlantic:

When Megan Nolan published her first novel, fellow authors warned her in “ominous tones” about the website Goodreads. The young Irish writer looked at the book’s listing there in the winter of 2020, the day the first proof copy arrived at her house. “Nobody but me and the publisher had seen it,” she wrote recently. “Despite this, it had received one review already: two stars, left by someone I had inconsequential personal discord with. It was completely impossible for him to have read the book.”

The terrible power of Goodreads is an open secret in the publishing industry. The review site, which Amazon bought in 2013, can shape the conversation around a book or an author, both positively and negatively. Today’s ostensible word-of-mouth hits are more usually created online, either via Goodreads or social networks such as Instagram and TikTok.

Publishers know how important these dynamics are, and so they send out advance reading copies, or ARCs, not just to independent booksellers who might stock a title, but also to influencers who might make content about it. “There’s an assumption that if you receive an ARC that you will post about it,” Traci Thomas, host of the literary podcast The Stacks, told me—“whether that’s on your Goodreads, on your Instagram, on your TikTok, tell other people in your bookstore, or whatever. And so that’s how it ends up that there’s so many reviews of a book that’s not out yet.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

As long-time visitors to TPV already know, PG thinks Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads many years ago was money unwisely spent. Online review sites are a dime a dozen plus the top reviews that show up on Amazon are much more important because they’re appearing at the point of sale.

There are also a zillion other places to find intelligent reviews online. Genre readers can easily locate review sites focused on romance, sci-fi, etc.

6 thoughts on “The Wrath of Goodreads”

  1. Well, I do use Goodreads as a reader, but I don’t belong to any groups, so much of the wars there fly by me. Now any online site with reviews is going to have it’s wars, so I don’t think much of it, it’s not a problem of Goodreads, it’s a problem of online public sites, and any attempt to fix it is not going to satisfy anybody, so I’m good with not trying, if I writer thinks of making a career in writing, s/he has to learn to live with it and not give it much thought, so the OP should consider it another lesson in her career.

    The OP complains about having negative reviews before launching the book, but I suppose any savvy reader looking for a book and finding that kind of treatment knows what it’s going on, reviews leaving just stars without any comment or mostly no comment have no weight in my decision.

    When I look a book in the site I look for the positive and negative long reviews, a negative reasoned review can sell me a book as much as a positive one. A book without reviews or just a few half-assed ones neither positive nor negative won’t sell me the book. I use the site because of the reviews and because I can keep a separate list with my “maybe I might buy” books, and a small private note of where I found the book that had me interested in it.

    • It is a site meant for readers, not writers.
      And, as you say, it has its uses.
      So it endures, handwringers not withstanding.

      It may not make Amazon much money but it’s cheap to keep up and they’ll take whatever sales it might drive their way.

  2. The cognitive dissonance of a purported gatekeeper environment becoming anything but that when it is monetized is a bit much for a lazy Saturday afternoon. As PG remarks a little farther downstream (regarding the “New! Improved! Indy-inspired!” B&N… that is still, nonetheless, in one of the few cities in the world as self-assured and arrogant regarding its place in the cultural universe as Paris), it’s better to read opinions about books from those one trusts, then perhaps supplement with a few others. Goodreads (et al.) try to reverse that.

    Comparison to fiction awards is appropriate… although I’ll snootily ignore snarky comments like “But I don’t trust the Pulitzer Prize system after 1974!”† — however much merit they have, they don’t engage with the current problem, only with flaws in potential solutions.

    † Well, you shouldn’t.

  3. I’ve left many reviews on Goodreads of older books. And I enjoy the variety of reviews of older books. The landscape for older books is much more thoughtful. The toxic trashing crowd play their games with current titles.

  4. Amazon buying Goodreads was a preemptive defensive move and a fine waste of money, not unlike B&N buying FICTIONWISE to run it into the ground and shut it down. Goodreads had the potential to become, under smart engaged ownership, to become a strong alternative to Amazon reviews *and* an ebookstore in its own right. This was highlighted by the moaning after Amazon took it over when many in the publishing establishment media griped that the BPHs should have bought it. (Which given their own halfhearted efforts at ebook sites would have suited Amazon just fine.)

    Big companies buying smaller competitors or potential competitors to shut them down (or bury their patents) doesn’t happen as often as people online think but it *does* hpen. Google does it a lot although, to be fair, it is hard to tell if the destruction is out of malice or incompetence.

    Amazon bought Audible for similar reasons: they worked in an ebook adjacent market and had the potential to add ebooks to their business model. Best to buy them and use it to add audiobooks to AMAZON’S business. Notably, with both Goodreads and Audible, Bezos allowed their existing management to continue to operate independently. With Audible this has resulted in a dominant business that generates ocassional teapot tempests with their policies that diverge from KDP policies but as long as they rain cash they’re allowed free reign.

    Goodreads has simiarly been allowed full opertional independence and if it has devolved into a freefire zone that makes Amazon lightly moderated reviews and author pages look good in comparison, so much the better.

    Yes, other open review sites exist but Goodreads is by far the biggest, stickiest, and least likely to go away. Plus any online search for a specific book will take you to Goodreads *and* KDP. And Goodreads itself will lead to KDP for sales, instead of B&N, Kobo, or anyplace else.

    Which is to say that what goodreads is isn’t quite by design but it serves KDP needs just fine as is. Its occasional toxicity is not a bug but a feature. So they let it be what it is. A captive competitor.

    (From time to time ADSers talk about Amazon as a target for antitrust but it is always over things they do right. The truly questionable moves go unquestioned. With enemies like those, you barely need friends.)

  5. Who here cares about Goodreads reviews?

    I don’t. Amazon reviews are more important – for the details they reveal not the number of stars.

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