Saturday, 1 March 2014

Goodreads: My Perspective

I came to a conclusion the other day.

I hate Goodreads. No, actually, I don't hate Goodreads. Hate is a very strong word and I have misapplied it here. In fact, I suspect that it would be too strong to even say as an author and a book reviewer, I dislike Goodreads.

The truth is probably something along the lines of this. I, as a human being, with my own individual thoughts and preferences often find myself feeling irritated by Goodreads.

Goodreads should be a very useful tool. I know many people who use Goodreads on a regular or semi-regular basis and find it to be such. My own use could probably be described as semi-regular. I have an author profile on there, once ran a competition giving away copies of Behind the Scenes on there and occasionally cut and paste my reviews from this site on there. But to be honest, I don't really enjoy using the site. And this is for a few reasons, which I will list below:

Clutter.

Goodreads tries to be many things to many people. Maybe it is many things to many people. But to me, the whole thing feels cluttered. We have book reviews, author pages, book clubs, librarians, book giveaways and groups for practically every book related topic that the world has ever seen. Add to that the fact that authors can also have blogs and that, like myself, they can also be reviewers and you've got a hell of a lot of stuff going on one site. I don't think I'll ever be able to understand or navigate it all.

Anyone can write a review.

Goodreads greatest strength can also, at times, prove itself to be its greatest weakness. Anyone can write a review. Which, in a perfect world, people would do responsibly and respectfully. But the fact is, we don't like in a perfect world. Some reviews on the site are disrespectful. And yes, I know that many reviews are great.

But the bulk of them are just written by people who don't think the same way I do about things. You know what? I don't want to see a massive GIF that says DO NOT READ simply because someone is disappointed that the latest release by their favourite YA authors is an adult novel that doesn't include vampires. That does not help me decide on a book at all. 

Actually, who am I kidding? I just don't like reviews that include GIFs. I have a massive, personal preference against that one. To me, most of the time they're unfunny. No, you have not been rendered speechless because a book is so horrible so you have to resort to using an image of someone looking or doing something stupid. You either can't be bothered expressing your dislike of a book in a logical fashion, or you're unwilling to develop the skills to do so.

But yes. Some of the reviews are great. And even if I disagree with a review, the reviewer still has a right to post it and express themselves in any way they wish. But sometimes, I wish I had an option of being able to hide that review so that I can go straight to the next one. 

Because of the anyone can write a review policy, the reviews should, logically, cancel one another out. Not everyone is going to love a book, not everyone is going to hate it. Unfortunately, the reality is, both readers and authors alike seem to care a bit too much about the average rating on goodreads and it can be used as a promotional tool, or people may unnecessarily avoid a book that has too low an average rating. What makes this particular part worse is the fact that the average rating is used as a reference by other book related sites that should be totally impartial such as google books.

Goodreads average ratings are just a reflection of what happens to be popular at this present moment with the people who happen to be using the site and it should not be taken as anything more or less than that. As I write this, Fifty Shades Freed has an average rating of 3.9, while Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House has an average rating of 3.6, despite the fact that both books differ in quality and content. The first review for A Doll's House berates an English teacher for a small part at the end, which the reviewer may or may not have purposefully misunderstood. The comment is funny, in its own little way, but a sad reflection of both the times and the site that this gets more credence than a well-researched and argued review, whether that review be positive or negative. Over on Fifty Shades Freed, the first review is a well written, but snarky, gif laden affair. This tells me that people are more interested in reading and writing book reviews purely for the entertainment value, rather than recommending their favourite books to other readers.  

To me, an average rating for a book on goodreads is absolutely meaningless. I'm going to care more about the opinions of reviewers who like many of the same books that I like and will always take more stock in what rating they have given the book, rather than its overall rating. 

Shelves.

The idea of shelving a book on goodreads is this: You can sort the books you've read, want to read or perhaps never want to read with various labels. Someone for example, may wish to shelve Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Dracula as a Classics so that if they want or need to, they can easily pull up a list of all of the Classics that they have read. Seems fine. Except ... those lists a public. Click on Wuthering Heights you'll eventually see all the other readers who have shelved it as a Classic. But that in itself isn't much of a problem. What has the potential to be problematic is that users can give the shelf any name they please. This means that if I wanted to, I could shelve A Doll's House under the title of Great Works of Feminism and Fifty Shades Freed under Poor Works of Feminism. Or alternatively, I could shelve A Doll's House as Fucking Brilliant and Fifty Shades Freed as Fucking Awful. And maybe that is a reflection of what I think. But is it helpful to other readers? Ultimately, no.

And honestly, I have seen some pretty nasty shelf titles out there. And if they're not intended to be nasty, then they certainly look that way. Sometimes humour just doesn't translate well across the screen.

Personally, I think that shelves should be set to private, or perhaps shared only with friends and followers.

Lack of Moderation, Guidelines and An Inability to Block Other Users.

Goodreads is a site that goes largely unmoderated. Because of this, it's easy for fights to break out between users who have conflicting views and there is no one who can step in and warn everyone to keep it clean before things get out of hand, or to delete posts that are abusive. And you have a site where abusive posts are never deleted, what you get, ultimately, is more abusive posts. Then you get users who think that it is their right to make abusive posts. Because what you're saying must be acceptable if no one is deleting it, right? Other sites, such as Yahoo! Answers will automatically delete a post if it gets a certain number of complaints from different users, with the option of the person whose post has been deleted to appeal the decision. The reporters are then given a credibility rating--ie users whose reports are always proven to be justified will become top reporters, while one who makes a number of malicious reports will lose credibility. A user who is found to repeatedly reported with just cause will lose their account. It's not a foolproof system, but it does offer around the clock moderation. A similar system may be useful to goodreads.

The other problem is that, unlike on other forms of social media, users don't have the option of blocking one another. An ability to block another user would probably stop most of the problems--for example, that person who has emailed you ten times today about their upcoming release can be blocked with a touch of a button, thus preventing further spam, as can that person who keeps trying to challenge you to a fight in the comments section because they don't agree with your review. You don't have to take their bait or be subjected to their crap. And again, sometimes, I would like to (without notifying the reviewer,) have the option of hiding a review that really doesn't interest me so that I can get to the ones that do, without feeling unnecessarily annoyed.

The divide between authors and readers is a small one. Too small. 

One of the arguments I've seen often used in favour of goodreads is that it is a site for readers. It is not a site for authors to promote their work. Fine. I can live with that.

So why does goodreads allow authors to have their own profiles?

For the record, yes I am an author with a goodreads profile. And to be honest with you, I don't really like my author profile very much. I use it to update my books (thus ensuring the bibliographical information is correct,) and that's about it. If you write a nice review about one of my books, I'll probably click the like button when I stop by.

Other than that, I don't really like the fact that anything I review links to my author account. If I give a book a low rating, I do it because it is my honest feelings about the book. However, I can see how someone might feel slighted, or assume that I had some kind of agenda whereby I was trying to make my own work look superior by giving their book a poor rating, even if that is not my intention. After spending years working on a book, yes authors do get awfully attached to their work and it can be hard to read reviews. I know that from firsthand experience. The best thing to do as an author is to not read them at all, or to wait until your work has been out for a while and you're a in a better place to digest that kind of criticism (or lackthereof,) without it seeming or feeling personal or worrying that one persons opinion (or several) is going to hurt sales.

A genuine malicious review is usually easy to spot and most people who use goodreads regularly are not going to be so easily fooled. A lot of the time, people give a book one or two stars because that is how they genuinely feel about the book. Ultimately, it just means that they have different Literary tastes and ideas about what makes for a good book than what you may do. Anyway, the fact is, I don't want people to think that I give out one or two star reviews just to be mean or to further my own career. And I don't think that the majority of authors on goodreads do the same thing.

First Reads

This is a competition page where, a goodreads author organises a competition giving away copies of their book, usually a new release. The competition winners are selected by goodreads and then the author (or occasionally, publisher,) sends a copy or copies of the books out to the winners. The only flaw in this system is that winners are more or less obligated to review the books they receive. Which is fine. If they like the book, or if they have an opinion about the book that they would like to share with other readers.

Imagine being forced to finish a book you are not enjoying or you feel indifferent to because you felt obligated to write a review about it. That's not fun. That's a chore. The book becomes like that thing your teacher chose for you back in English that you didn't really get and now your final grade is depending on your essay about the book. Plus you know that the author has your home address, or at least knows where you have a post office box, because they mailed the book to you. (Yeah, okay, they're unlikely to come after you.)

Another sidenote to the Goodreads competition. Last year when I gave away copies of Behind the Scenes, at least one of them went to a reseller on amazon.com who has long since lost their Goodreads account. He was offering an autographed copy of my book for sale within days of me posting it over to him. (During an email exchange, the reseller was quite upfront about this.) This seems a bit unfair that I was, essentially, providing this guy with free stock out of my own hip pocket and because it also means that another user missed out on the chance to read to read my book for free.

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Personally, I think that goodreads tries too hard to be too many things to too many people. If goodreads is a site for readers, then it should stay that way. Put an end to author profiles, add some safeguards such as blocking or a better system for reporting abuse and stop sharing average ratings and reviews to third party sites. Don't force competition readers to write reviews. The ability to hide (not report or delete) reviews would also be useful. I think the site could be doing a lot better to ensure that all of its users get along with one another, or can work together harmoniously for the purposes of sharing a love of reading.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting thoughts Kathryn, I agree with you to some extent but I still think Goodreads offers a great community for booklovers and too much control is as bad as not enough.

    I stay well away from any drama so and as I dont read a lot of YA am usually spared the gif laden reviews which I too find annoying.

    Users can block another user by the way - I just blocked someone today who started bombarding me with SPAM. Go to the persons profile and scroll right down to the bottom of the page - you can unfriend, report or block that user.

    I would suggest that you might be more comfortable having two profiles - one as an author and one as a user. Many authors do this for convenience and to reduce the possibility of the issues you have raised.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, that's some very useful advice :-) Two profiles would be a very good idea.

      I do have to agree, too much moderation is a bad thing. And thanks for the advice on how to block other users. Blocking isn't something I enjoy doing, but in the case of repeat spam, it's warranted.

      I agree, two profiles might be the way to go. Also, I've been planning for a while now to cut down on the amount of YA that I review (though I've got a somewhat grumbly review of Forever scheduled for later this week,) and put more of a focus on Literature and Australian writers, as recently, I have enjoyed writing those reviews more.

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