Opinion

Goodreads and What They Did Wrong

I’m a very pragmatic sort, you know. I do get carried away by my emotions a lot and tend to be excitable and melodramatic but despite that all, I’m pragmatic. Therefore the fact that Goodreads reacted to the growing cries of those authors whose books were receiving bad reviews  makes sense. To me anyways. The authors were getting more and more vocal because the more thin-skinned of them cannot handle negative reviews. Also, let me just put this out there, there are some very horrible books in existence. There are some people who think they can ride the popularity wave that YA fiction is enjoying today and make some money. They forget to consider that readers are discerning beings and that books will be torn apart once they go out into the world. Everything is subject to an opinion and sometimes, they are not nice opinions and sometimes these not nice opinions are not stated in a nice way.

Am I saying that there are GR users who didn’t take it too far? No, not at all. I’m not saying that. I’ve seen some people who, however they justified it to themselves, focused more on the writers than the books. Sometimes going so far as to black ball a particular group of writers because of their association with a certain writer. Did I agree with that? No. Did I say anything about that? Again, no. Because it is their right. They can decide what to do and how they want to do it.

The point is, if you cannot handle negative opinions of your work, you may as well continue writing in your diary and hiding it from the world. As an author, you have to maintain a certain distance, some objectivity from your work. Your work does not define you and if it does, you need to go out and get a more rounded life. How about understanding that the reason you get bad reviews is not because someone hates you personally but because your book is bad? Perhaps that’s asking for too much.

Now that I have said this, let’s talk about how Goodreads went wrong. As a business, they need to keep their customers happy.

Their customers.

Of whom the readers sufficiently outnumber the authors.

Yet they went ahead and deleted reviews and shelves WITHOUT ANY WARNING. Were author profiles removed without warning? No. Were bookshelves caroling the awesomeness of authors removed? No. Just negative reviews and shelves titled negatively.

So Goodreads decided to choose a side in this battle and they threw their lot in with the elite (as one would argue the authors are) instead of the more numerous readers. Their actions directly affected their most active, most popular reviewers who then decided that rather than being treated like crap, they’re simply going to move and take their remaining reviews with them. These people write good reviews – well thought out, well crafted ones. If you compare the average review which gushes “OMG THIS BOOK’S SO GOOD, READ IT!” to the ones these people write, there will be a marked difference.

From the perspective of a business, this does not make sense to me at all. Why would you risk alienating your most dedicated customers? Is Goodreads going to be negatively impacted? Hell yeah, their reputation has suffered. I have removed their widgets from my the blog and though I still am with them, when I find a site that fits all my needs, I will consider moving.

Is there any way they could have gotten it right? Yes. They could have sent an email warning users not in compliance of their TOS and given them some time to remove offending shelves and reviews themselves instead of arbitrarily removing what they decided was offensive.

The good thing is that the reviews still remain on the blogs. They will be posted on many other platforms. The bad thing is that Goodreads lost whatever reputation it had as a platform that had the readers’ best interests at heart. Still it’s better to know than not.

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24 thoughts on “Goodreads and What They Did Wrong

  1. Agreed. Ugh, just the thought of getting an email with the message that x number of shelves and reviews have been removed… The way they “announced” it was also so underhanded. Well, they certainly self-sabotaged this time.

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  2. I think it’s very fitting that this happened right around Banned Book Week hopefully we can make Goodreads see that censorship is not the answer. ~A

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  3. I agree with all that you said. While I understand that it is Goodreads’ right to do whatever they want on their site, they most certainly should have handled it better. It feels like they are only catering to the authors rather than the readers of the site, and that’s just not right. I am still going to use Goodreads, but at the same time, I feel conflicted in doing so. I don’t want to support what the company did, but I do still love how the site works (well except for now that they delete negative opinions).

    It seems as though the site is rewarding some authors for their bad behavior.

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  4. Wow, I hadn’t heard about this, but I have to say, my opinion of Goodreads had always been sort of indifferent – there should be better ways of doing what they do – but jeez, now it’s negative. And I say this as a person reading eighty books a year – there’s a lot more of us readers than there are authors. We ARE the primary users. Our voices count.

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  5. Whoa, didn’t know this happened. To delete stuff without warning is terrible. Btw, how did you know? Was there a general announcement? I use goodreads and didn’t receive any notice

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    1. Isn’t that sneaky? You’d think they would announce that to all their users. My timeline on twitter just blew up and then, one of my friends posted a link. A lot of my bloggy friends had reviews and shelves deleted.

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  6. Ugh, this whole situation is just such a mess. I really, really fail to see how they could arrive at the idea to delete content without notifying the users. That’s the part that really bothers me. There was a such a sly, underhanded feeling about it all too: making the announcement just before the weekend, putting the announcement in a feedback group.. It just really rubbed me the wrong way that they would treat users like this. Having said that – I can’t say the idea of jumping ship to another site and all of the work that entails appeals either. So it’s a bit of a conundrum, stay or go?

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    1. I am facing the same dilemma. I think I may stick around if only for the convenience until something as awesome shows up. On the other hand, I have decided not to post my full reviews there. I have to do something or else I’ll feel like I got cowed.

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  7. As someone working toward the goal of becoming a published writer, I hate that they did this. I actually love the widespread availability of negative reviews on sites like goodreads, since I read negative reviews of different many books as sort of instruction manuals for what not to do in my own writing. I’m sure other writers do this too! I wrote about it here, if you are interested: https://yacrazy.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/the-glory-of-random-review-reading/
    Basically I think having negative reviews online in large quantities can be good for writers! It’s too bad these people don’t see it that way though.

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    1. I think authors don’t even need to read reviews. I’m working on a novel as well and honestly, when you are workshopping, you get a lot worse comments from the people who are reading your work. That should build up your ability to take criticism and give you a healthy dose of humility. If you’re unable to take criticism, I dare you ought not to put your work out there. Good luck with your writing!

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      1. I stopped doing regular reviews ages ago but it’s sad that I can no longer view GR as a place that I’d be comfortable posting a review on if I felt like it. I second the backbone building of workshopping. My major is writing so I’ve gone through many classes where my work has been picked apart too – even the worst criticism I’ve found to be useful.

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  8. “There are some people who think they can ride the popularity wave that YA fiction is enjoying today and make some money.” True. some books really are just bad. And we’re not dicks for sharing that honest opinion of something put out for public consumption.

    I find your comment on blackballing authors for friendship with a certain author intriguing. I suspect I know of whom you’re thinking, and I’ve been considering doing that to a limited degree. Not so much by friendship but by being supportive to a degree I believe likely dishonest and done as a publicity stunt. I’m not entirely decided though. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on such matters.

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    1. People usually tiptoe around that elephant but it’s true. Some people don’t have what it takes or haven’t bothered to learn how to do it. Just because you can string sentences together doesn’t mean you can actually write. You have to be able to tell a story which, according to Robert McKee, requires the talent to tell Story and that talent is extremely rare.

      As for blackballing authors just for their association with another author, I don’t think I’d do that. Unless say that author had Nazi beliefs or something and the other authors, instead of being horrified by her/him, decided to celebrate her. That would be a problem for me. But each to their own. At the end of the day, the money belongs to the individual and they should be the ones to decide how and who they’re going to spend it on.

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  9. The one thing I noticed is the fact when it comes to reviewing the general rule is “Insult the book, not the author”, as petty as it seems that people can’t find anything good to say about a book, it’s definitely not right of GR to delete reviews or tags that are negatively associated with a particular book.
    Authors should’ve known walking into the publishing world that being think-skinned is part, nay, a necessity of the game. They should know that not everybody is going to love their book and they should just accept this. GR is doing nothing positive when it comes to protecting the author from the honesty of the readers, whom will always be there, and forcing long-term users to find another alternative or to stop collecting their book information on a website all together.
    You’re right bad business, and Goodreads might be difficult like Facebook, when 7 changes are made and 6 changes are revoked. I think they’re playing the trial-and-error game, and pushing the boundaries to see what happens.
    – Krys

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