Goodreads’ problem with extortion scams and review bombing
August 14, 2021 3:57 AM   Subscribe

How Extortion Scams and Review Bombing Trolls Turned Goodreads Into Many Authors’ Worst Nightmare (Time) Scammers and cyberstalkers are increasingly using the Goodreads platform to extort authors with threats of “review bombing” their work–and they are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.
posted by bitteschoen (80 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Dump the star system. What good is it? It could measure the quality of the book, but currently it measures how many people the writer can get to give the book five stars versus how many accounts want to make it look bad. It's useless on both sides. It might take a while for users to get used to reading reviews and making a choice about a book based on their reasoning power, but something tells me they could pull it off.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:16 AM on August 14, 2021 [27 favorites]

It seems nuts to me that a site as big as Goodreads still hasn't even got basic email verification for accounts. It feels like Amazon bought it and has done the absolute bare minimum to keep it running as a way to funnel people towards Kindle (which.. isn't surprising as a tactic at all).

Maybe I'm not on Goodreads enough, but is the star system actually being taken seriously by anyone except these trolls? I would have assumed in 2021 most people who are online enough to use the site would understand that you can't trust user ratings at all, and a large % of book sales (and perceived clout/success) presumably still comes from brick and mortar stores.

It kind of feels like these trolls are creating a rod for their own backs in the same way that nobody takes Rotten Tomato scores seriously either. Once it becomes understood that you can't trust a score, the entire system becomes untrustworthy, so the threats become empty and pointless. That's not to say that Amazon shouldn't do something about it, they definitely should, but IMO the real problem is the rampant racism/misogyny/bigoted comments going largely unmoderated rather than the star reviews themselves.
posted by fight or flight at 4:40 AM on August 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

The problem with no stars is that it provides no guide to algorithmic sorting. There are just so many books, and no one can read enough reviews to divide all the wheat from all the chaff. If Goodreads just becomes a giant slush pile, it's not really useful to anyone.
posted by rikschell at 4:43 AM on August 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

I’m not sure I really use the star system to guide my decisions too much, but I do think I had some unfounded faith that it was more legitimate. Not sure why I was so silly. I’m not particularly surprised to hear GR has nothing in place to prevent this and doesn’t respond well to fix it when it happens. Every time I log into the app it is blatantly obvious that there is no desire from Amazon (I didn’t know Amazon owned it but am I surprised?) to keep it a positive experience. It’s so bad - possibly the worst app I use regularly.

I do like the star system for tracking my personal experience with books (ranging from “couldn’t finish” to “omg LOVE LOVE LOVE”) but I would be fine if those ratings were visible only to me or my GR friends (should I ever choose to make such friends).

And of course OF COURSE this is disproportionately targeting POC and other non-cis/het/WASP authors, already marginalized and diminished by the publishing industry. Of course.
posted by obfuscation at 4:52 AM on August 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

I didn't even get as far as the misogyny etc with good reads. I joined up to get some recommendations about a decade ago (I think). Rated some of my favourite books plus whatever I had read that came up.

Recommend: Hunger Games

So I recommended a bunch more things I enjoyed. Rated some stuff I thought were middling. None of them YA.

Recommend: Hunger Games

So I just assumed it was utterly useless from the off. Now it's just another app Amazon insists I have on my kindle fire which has no value at all.
posted by biffa at 5:06 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am once more asking for a Goodreads review filter to remove:
  • Longwinded plot synopses
  • I got this from Netgalley
  • I don’t actually like [genre]
  • [I clearly haven’t read this book]
posted by adrianhon at 5:18 AM on August 14, 2021 [29 favorites]

Speaking as an author here:

I hate Goodreads and want it to die.

There is zero curation and zero quality to GR reviews. There's also very little curation of the data going into Goodreads—it basically hoovers up publishers' databases and throws up the results in front of reviewers. Result: I've had books given a one star review that I haven't even written because the title only exists in a publisher's database because a contract for two books got signed and my editor had to type in a title in a form, and some dipshit who dislikes me (because I don't share their political views, typically) decides to one-star everything I've written.

A book that isn't written with only one review, and that review is a one-star, drags down your overall average rating significantly. And even if the book gets written and published subsequently, it contaminates the reader reviews: if the first four folks to read it give it five stars, it's still averaging only four thanks to the troll.

And I'm not even being brigaded. This is the effect of a single disaffected individual with no sockpuppets or friends, targeting a relatively established not-obviously-minority-ethnic-or-female author.
posted by cstross at 5:20 AM on August 14, 2021 [158 favorites]

The Story Graph are a promising alternative.
Not being owned by Amazon, they don't have the reach of goodreads, plenty of books don't yet have any reviews, but it seems like a much less toxic community.
It was created by Nadia Odunayo, a tech entrepreneur who was inspired by her own frustrations with Goodreads, and is fully owned by Odunayo and one partner.
posted by Lanark at 5:27 AM on August 14, 2021 [37 favorites]

The problem with no stars is that it provides no guide to algorithmic sorting.

The Story Graph has tags for mood and pace, plus ratings for Plot- or character-driven?, Strong character development?, Loveable characters?, Diverse cast of characters?, Flaws of characters a main focus?

So plenty for an algorithm to work with.
posted by Lanark at 5:31 AM on August 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

So plenty for an algorithm to work with.

From a quick glance it also seems to have a star-based rating/review system.
posted by fight or flight at 5:36 AM on August 14, 2021

It does, but the stars aren't emphasized in SG the way they are in GR. And you can set your recommendations preferences to select for things like "Minority Authors" or to exclude things like "Horror" and "True Crime" and the system follows the preferences pretty well.

I've found a lot of good stuff using SG.
posted by oddman at 5:44 AM on August 14, 2021

The only thing I've ever used Goodreads for is posting about a book online, rather than linking to Amazon.
posted by Foosnark at 5:49 AM on August 14, 2021

OMG the unmonitored internet doesn’t work!!
posted by Melismata at 5:54 AM on August 14, 2021 [26 favorites]

I like how fine-grained the categories are. Does The Story Graph have the ability to import award lists?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:56 AM on August 14, 2021

Goodreads, and any such social media site focused on reviewing, has an in-built problem, a kind of observer effect.

Review aggregators such as Rotten Tomatoes rely on the critics being mainly focused on writing a review for the newspaper, website, radio station etc.

Now, many critics do give a thought to such aggregators, but they are, at most, secondary concerns. But when people are writing directly for the aggregators, it’s very natural to start gaming the system. For example, giving one-star or five-star reviews to move the average in the direction, even if your views aren’t as strong as your score indicates.

As a decade plus of Goodreads has taught us, there are countless ways to game the system, many benign, but some fairly awful. And the more involved users become in the community, the more they understand the system, and they will take the system into account as they create their reviews, consciously or subconsciously.

With each, single review, the distortion isn’t so big, but on the aggregate you end up with bad patterns, usually reflecting the bad patterns prevalent in the societies most users come from (e.g. sexism).

So you end up with a website that is supposed to point its users to books they’d like but otherwise wouldn’t find, but ends up highlighting the exact same kind of books that capitalism pushes on readers already.
posted by Kattullus at 6:00 AM on August 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

The writing/reading game is full of scams.

As a reader, I don't usually look at the stars. If I do, I read reviews by people who gave the book three or four stars, because those are generally pretty interesting. Previewing helps.

As a writer, I will continue to make $4.90 or so a month or so on my Kindle books no matter how they're reviewed on Goodreads. Writing, like being an adjunct professor (which I also do) is not a way to make a living.

Last year I took an online seminar on making a living as a Kindle author. It seemed to me that the model was based on a kind of fraud, where one picks popular topics, writes hastily-cobbled-together manuscripts targeted to particular genres, sells them at a loss or for no money in order to drive up the numbers, and then takes advantage of the algorithms to get people to buy them. There was a fair amount of good advice mixed in with the Chop-O-Matic huckstering, so though I paid for the seminar (not much), I was relieved that I had not been entirely defrauded.

That said, the world is full of extortion and fraud. I recently cancelled a debit card I didn't use much. Because I rarely used it, and because I have alerts set on my bank account for "card not present" expenses, I noticed right away when someone used the number for Uber Cash. The bank cancelled the charges and mailed me a new card, which I activated and put in my fire safe. That new one was immediately used for Uber. I suspect someone at the bank is selling debit card numbers.

When it comes down to it the whole publishing game is rife with hucksterism and fraud. Few make any money except (very very slightly) publishers and (to a greater extent) famous people who can afford good ghostwriters. Well, and the handful of bestselling writers.
posted by Peach at 6:04 AM on August 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

The problem with no stars is that it provides no guide to algorithmic sorting

Considering everything we've learned about algorithmic sorting and suggestions over the last five or so years, this strikes me as an overall positive.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:16 AM on August 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

Key quote
Goodreads is a “good idea that slowly became unmanageable over the years due to lack of adequate moderation and general indifference.”
As a reader I love Goodreads. I like having a catalog of my books, a place to write reviews, a community of readers to discuss things with. It's a low impact site, I may engage with it once every week or two at most. But it's very helpful to me. And I've put a lot of content there.

But as a student of Internet social media I recognize how awful it is. The misogynist and racist review bombing problem here. More generally, low quality and manipulated reviews. The lack of any evidence of any improvement to the site in years, even before Amazon bought it. It's just asking to be replaced. But there's no realistic replacement. As the article says, "With few serious competitors".. It's the classic social media problem, you need a critical mass of users.

This specific problem of racist and misogynist trolls ruining things is a big problem on all aggregators of user reviews, btw. Steam for games. Rotten Tomatoes as well, the user review section, although they did start making some changes to address that. I wonder, has the verified audience score stuff worked there?
posted by Nelson at 6:28 AM on August 14, 2021 [10 favorites]

I find the star system good for this: I can go to a reasonably popular writer that I want to get around to reading and see which of his/her books rank better. I consider that a likely good entry point (taking into account series, etc.) to reading the author.
For example, I knew I wanted to read Michael Swanwick. I could find out his most popular book by the way of reviews. Interesting, but I scrolled down to find his most highly starred book (I made a cut-off at 200 reviews to prevent noise.) Discounting ones that are the middle of a series, I came upon The Best of Michael Swanwick. I like short stories, I like variety.
The book was great.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:42 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I like goodreads for keeping track myself of books I have read (in particular I read a lot of same-y domestic thriller and the star system helps me remember which authors I dislike), and of upcoming releases from authors I have read before. I secondarily look at reviews from friends or reviewers I trust, but mostly I use it for the first two, where it works fine.
posted by jeather at 6:46 AM on August 14, 2021 [13 favorites]

Ms Black on her own website says that she did take the extortion note to the FBI and gives links for anyone else subjected to this kind of criminal fringe.

I read reviews by people who gave the book three or four stars, because those are generally pretty interesting.

I'll go down to two stars. Same reasons. A raft of one star is de facto suspicious. Five stars, slightly less so.

...famous people who can afford good ghostwriters. Well, and the handful of bestselling writers.

Certain amount of overlap there, truth be told
posted by BWA at 7:15 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Dump the star system. What good is it?

I would use a site without a star system (or equivalent) because I want to rank my own reviews. I go back to that ranking to find authors I might have liked and forgotten, or books that I might by as a present for a friend.

Amazon has a big avantage over Goodreads in that they know if someone purchased a book or not and they actually use that as weighting in their scoring. Even with that, you actually have to read several reviews to get a feel for what's going on. Political likes/dislikes are easy to filter out, as are ones by overly sensitive readers (author uses four-letter words!).

If I'm thinking of buying a book, I read Amazon reviews, not Goodreads.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:24 AM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is off topic from the problem of organized troll campaigns, but there's a fascinating aspect of Goodreads star system compared to most Internet review sites. Most sites have you do 1-5 stars without any particular meaning. Everyone rates everything they liked at all 5 stars, things they hate 1 star, and the average rating is 3.5 to 4. (The Yelp problem, I call it). Goodreads is different. When you go to click on a star rating there's a little hover text

1: did not like it
2: it was ok
3: liked it
4: really liked it
5: it was amazing

When I started writing reviews on Goodreads I resolved to give very, very few books 5 stars. Like only "OMG best book evar". It feels like most things should be 2 stars; most things are only OK, afterall. But I choose carefully and I end up giving most novels I read get 3 or 4 stars. I'm not sure I even can give a book a 5 star rating right after I've read it, usually takes some reflection to realize it really was that good. On the contrary 1 star feels easy to give. Any book I didn't like enough to finish. Also a few books that I did finish but was like "why did I waste my time?"

The most recent book I gave 5 stars to was the historical first person Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Even trying to give a rating to such a precious historical document as that seems sort of ridiculous. But that's what we do on Goodreads and it was a published and marketed book of its time. It's astonishing and well worth a read.

Despite the prompts from the website few Goodreads reviewers are as stingy with the 5 stars as I am. My star ratings are a full point below most everyone else's on the site. But I like the idea of it so much. To reserve a special rating just for the very few very best books.
posted by Nelson at 7:24 AM on August 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I did the same thing Nelson! I use the past tense because at some point (maybe around the time of acquisition?) I realized that my attempts to organize and recommend books within my group of acquaintances was being used to feed a book rating and recommendation engine, and I wasn’t comfortable having my personal cataloguing system be used in this way. I’m extremely weary of the lack of anything between “keeping a private journal” and “feeding an aggregation algorithm with lots of unintended consequences” on the internet these days. It’s all the more depressing when the subject is such an intimate, nuanced thing as a book.
posted by q*ben at 7:47 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

stars suck. user reviews are cheap and unreliable.

i still haven't found a good online substitute for wandering around a physical bookshop. i worked in a popular indy shop for 5 years just as the web was getting rollin. netscape days, right? five segments to a book shop: admin & bookkeeping, counter, shipping, shelf space, displays, and staff.

amazon nailed the first three. then, the game changer was infinite shelf space.

which upset economy of shelf space that makes each phsical shop unique: it forces a level of curation. a high, informed level. a section needs 'must haves', eye catching (beautiful design that can be turned face out), 'good and new' (e.g. great lit fic), steady sellers, popular (wider appeal. like, a ya section can have a lot of good stuff, but it needs hunger games and holes and wool. science needs a brief history of time.

displays. again, evonomy of space. topical displays, seasonal displays new, classic, beautiful, a mix. another HIGH level of curation. in the shop, you basically had to be owner picked to design a display. and it was open to critique from other staff before the doors opened.

finally, staff. a selected group of readers who can speak articulately about what they like and don't like. and what others have said press reviewers, friends, trusted patrons.

neither amazon, nor goodreads, have a staff dedicated to managing an ever changing ecology of available books in a tightly constrained space.

dunno about it's viability, but heres an experiment: model the driving constraint of curation, space. hire 150 - an 80/20 mix of liberal arts and scientifical grads across the age, race, gender, etc spectrums. split em into four groups to curate four separate fps bookshops. only so many shelf-feet, 20" height. say, five tables, two ends, and two windows. rotate the stock. keep each separately profitable. trade staff.

customers submit forum questions, staff answers. moderate the bulletin board, just like irl.

totally half baked.

no idea what would happen, but spaceman jeff can afford some failed experiments (like blue origin, amirite!).
posted by j_curiouser at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2021

I joined Good Reads in the pre-Amazon days for the recommendation engine. Reading these comments, especially Jeather's comment, I see that I'm really using it these days to track things I've read, my TBR pile, and the authors for whom I'll read anything they publish. I don't write reviews or use the social aspects of the site. Reading Nelson and q*ben's comments, I also realize I've been dutifully clicking star ratings all along, and giving a lot of three star and four star reviews, even for things I might recommend to others. It never occurred to me that in a small way I'm part of this star rating train wreck.

I was intrigued by the StoryGraph recommendation. Ultimately, I'm really interested in a book cataloguing system and am wondering (for the third or fourth time) if I wouldn't be better served using LibraryThing. Q*ben's comment mentions using Good Reads for cataloging in the "past tense" - I'm curious what others are using for the catalog/to-be-read/recommend use case?
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 8:15 AM on August 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

My two favorite Goodreads reviews:

1) A book I haven't written yet-- it exists as a proposal and a contract. The first review? 1 star, "This bitch again?"

2) A book I haven't written yet-- again, exists as a proposal and a contract. The first review? 1 star, a 2000 word screed WITH PICTURES, wondering why YA authors are SO FAT. Photos were taken of me and other authors on a panel at a convention, from below-- theeee most flattering angle-- but you know why we're so fat, asshole? WE SIT AROUND ALL DAY WRITING BOOKS FOR YOU TO ONE STAR ON GOODREADS.

Both of these reviews, deemed totally legitimate by Goodreads. It is a cesspit.
posted by headspace at 8:21 AM on August 14, 2021 [49 favorites]

I use Goodreads the same way a few others here do: just for compiling completion dates and my own ratings of books I have read. I would/could/should just put my own spreadsheet in the cloud, but I didn't want to go to the trouble of figuring out how to get the book covers to appear next to each entry.

On the rare occasion when I scroll down to see user comments, I always wonder "why would I want to discuss a book with this bunch of randos?" I have been in some bad book groups in my years, but at least I could look the other members in the eye.

My most frequent tool to decide whether I want to read a book is this kludged together search engine of book reviews from major media outlets, which I no longer remember where I heard about.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:26 AM on August 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have never used Goodreads because it’s so uniformly awful, and then I briefly attempted to use it after devouring an entire YA series in a week. The ending to the series was strange, and I wondered what others thought of it… but I guess I was hoping for more of a community? Like conversations, not just hundreds of airing of grievances in righteous, long-winded reviews? I abandoned it within a week. (And wished again FanFare was more active for books.)

Then in July someone recommended Story Graph to me and oh my goodness. What a revelation. It doesn’t have the community forums I’d been abstractly wishing for, but I was so energized by it I read 20 books in a month. Like, all I did for a month was sleep and read and then browse Story Graph for recommendations. I manually imported everything on my to-read and have-read lists, which took forever (but it will import your Goodreads lists if you have them). Being able to search my lists for whatever is “lighthearted” and/or “adventurous” and “fast” has been great. Highly recommend Story Graph.
posted by lilac girl at 8:35 AM on August 14, 2021 [10 favorites]

Signed up for StoryGraph based on the discussion of it here, inputted my reading preferences, and the first book it recommended to me was one of mine, so, uhhhhhh, yeah.

(The other recommendations were excellent)
posted by jscalzi at 8:48 AM on August 14, 2021 [51 favorites]

Do people think this is a YA/romance/SFF/fandom thing? I look at goodreads reviews a lot, but almost exclusively for non-YA/romance books or old science fiction and fantasy and in general the reviews seem pretty sincere - sometimes stupid, sometimes basically someone's journal about their readings, but straightforward. (I also like to look for "spoilers" about whether there's a lot of homophobia, violence, etc in older books.) I've also come across a couple of people who link their blog reviews of older SFF and even though that's self-promotion it's exactly the kind of self-promotion that I want to read.

Most of the really toxic stuff I read about seems to be specific to YA, romance and contemporary SFF which is why I don't usually look at Goodreads for reviews of those books. I have some vague theories about why this is the case (none of which are, eg, "well what can you expect from people who read romances") but no really developed ideas.

I get the sense that some self-published romance writers can in fact make at least part of a living from their books.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on August 14, 2021 [11 favorites]

Is there anything similar to metacritic but for books?

Something akin to rotten tomatoes that shoes critics aggregate ratings vs reader ratings?

I've had lots of luck and enjoy using Stroygraph to track what I'm reading / have read and also to get suggestions, , but it's not quite what I'm I'm imagining ..?
posted by Faintdreams at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

As a reader, I find GR useful to catalogue my books, hold my reviews, and connect me with friends who like to trade recommendations. When the site began it was better designed than Librarything, so i migrated to it.
I have no interest in its functionality for writers, and very little interest in its rating system (I use my own in my reviews). I've never found its algorithm helpful in finding new reads for me, and I've never agreed with the "readers choice" picks.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]


It looks like is the closest thing to a Book review aggregator (similar to metacritic and rotten tomatoes) that currently exists.

Aaaand having tried it search is not that great on Bookmarks? I looked for John Scalzi books, and only 3 came up :C
posted by Faintdreams at 9:34 AM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Goodreads is pretty much trash. In the very early days, I used to get ranty about the classics for kicks, but I stopped that a while back because it's pointless and it just made me feel like an asshole.

I still use it as a book tracker. I don't think I've ever opted to read or not read a book because of a Goodreads rating. The only reason I've ever used the star system is as an internal reminder for what caveats I would add to any personal recommendation to a friend. I mostly read the weird end of what the kids call literary fiction, which is a place where the worst negative reviews tend to either be "this is stupid and pretentious there is no punctuation or plot" (fair, not for everybody) or "wrapping your explicitly sexist/racist tropes in experimental language and calling it transgressive doesn't obviate the explicit sexism/racism, my dude" (100% true), and I've never know exactly how to (even internally) apply stars to genres I have less familiarity with (YA, fantasy, romance & sci-fi, for example). So there's a lot of things I read that I don't star at all.

There are a truly amazing number of sources for great book recommendations online (through sites, magazines, blogs, review sections, libraries, AskMeFi etc) and in-person (bookstores, local libraries, friends). I love recommending books to people and trying to tailor recommendations and tend to end up buying multiple copies of my favorite books because I give them to people and always want to have a copy on hand to hand over to someone.
posted by thivaia at 9:36 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have records of the books I've read going back to 2007 on Goodreads (the earliest ones I copied over from LiveJournal).

If I can export what I need into Story Graph or LibraryThing, I'll just jump ship. I don't want to feed the Amazon machine any more than I have to, so as long as I can keep my content, I'm out.

I do prefer a star rating system, just so I have an easy-to-refence record of whether or not I'll want to go back to an author, or whether I would recommend something. I don't 5-star much but A Memory Called Empire just knocked my socks clean off so it got the first 5 in a while.
posted by minsies at 9:42 AM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have actually found a use for GR, if only in a meta sort of way. If I read about a book, and they lead with their GR rating, it's virtually certain that the book is crap.
posted by kjs3 at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

While I’m waiting for StoryGraph to finish importing my Goodreads export, does anyone know the process for getting them on the MetaFilter profile options? I’d like to seed my network with familiar voices.
posted by adamsc at 9:56 AM on August 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Occasionally the “Readers Also Enjoyed” function picks a winner. For example, I discovered The Pugilist At Rest by Thom Jones because it was highly rated by people who liked Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.

Most of the recommendations are trash though, and I still hope that someone will develop a decent algorithm at some point.
posted by lumpy at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2021

LibraryThing is partly owned by Amazon, two of the top links of every book page are to 'Buy on Amazon' and 'Buy on AbeBooks' (also owned by Amazon) so even if you don't buy from them yourself you are still feeding the snake.
The Story Graph also have a buy link but it goes to which links you to local independent bookshops.
posted by Lanark at 10:16 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

There’s a import guide for Goodreads to LibraryThing.

AFAIK, Abebooks had a minority stake in LibraryThing when Amazon bought Abebooks, but LibraryThing is still independently managed. When I want to be Purer than That I go back to Project Gutenberg, which doesn’t have a review system, I think. (How many axes would that need to have! Ethical For Its Time. Horrible But Important. Wonderful Exactly Because It Doesn’t Care About Our Sibboleths. If Only This Had Worked. Etc.)

Though I admit I have abandoned all review systems and my TBR pile and lists are still growing past any plausible lifespan.
posted by clew at 10:41 AM on August 14, 2021

Most of the really toxic stuff I read about seems to be specific to YA, romance and contemporary SFF which is why I don't usually look at Goodreads for reviews of those books. I have some vague theories about why this is the case (none of which are, eg, "well what can you expect from people who read romances") but no really developed ideas.

I really hope someone else will weigh in on whether this is true... Like other people here, I use goodreads to log the books I read but don't look at other people's ratings or reviews.

It does call to mind winterfox, where a well-known SFF troll was harassing basically rival authors.
posted by subdee at 10:45 AM on August 14, 2021

The import from Goodreads into Story Graph was pretty quick, at least for me (~1000 books imported). It took maybe 10 minutes to get the e-mail. Navigation is going to take me a while to get used to, but that's fine.

In case in any one needs it (I couldn't find the delete account button when I went looking for it), here's instructions for deleting a GR account.

adamsc, I think we can request the profile addition through MetaTalk. I'll head over there in a minute, after I remove Goodreads from my profile!
posted by minsies at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

I really enjoyed GoodReads for a bit, about a decade ago. But now I only hear about it when an author is stressed out about their reviews on social media or when I occasionally get a notification email that someone liked an old review of mine. Most of my reviews were good, but this long on, the only reviews that still get liked are snarky and mean. And, while Paulo Coelho can suck it, it doesn't actually make me feel great to get randomly reminded of a book I disliked a lot but would otherwise have entirely forgotten.

GoodReads was only useful to me, like others have mentioned, to track my own personal opinions. But now it feels like those ratings are more akin to a corporate customer survey, where the only answer that doesn't needlessly punish someone I bear no ill will towards is 5 stars. So the utility to me, as a reader, is gone.

Might look into Story Graph - thanks for the suggestion!
posted by the primroses were over at 10:48 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

After reading the Time article, I just sent the following message to Goodreads. Who knows, I’m probably just screaming into the void, but I sent it anyway.
A user, “Charles,” appears to be flagrantly abusing the Goodreads rating system by assigning one star ratings to 96% of the books they have rated (currently over 7000).

This user targets LGBTQ+ authors in particular.

This problem was previously reported directly to you by other Goodreads users in 2019, after a tweet pointing out the user had rated 500 books with 1 star in a 24 hour period.

That was 2 years ago and the user has continued their harmful behaviour with (it would appear) no consequences from Goodreads despite reports to you of the abuse. Last week’s Time article on Goodreads abuse mentioned this abusive user again, and still nothing has been done by you.

This is an abrogation of duty on your part. By doing nothing despite numerous reports over several years, you are actively contributing to the harassment of, and threat to livelihood of marginalized authors.

Please stop this user from abusing the Goodreads system, authors, and users who act in good faith on this site.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:54 AM on August 14, 2021 [14 favorites]

I'm a sci-fi & fantasy writer, started transitioning into it full-time around 2013.

Basically every author I met back then said to not even look at Goodreads. It's only good for making yourself feel bad, they said. DO NOT ENGAGE, they said. And they weren't wrong. I feel like my star ratings and averages and such are pretty good, but it's also clear a lot of folks go there to be hyper-critical and harsh. And in fairness, there is some value to the idea that readers should have a place to talk about stuff without the author getting involved, because power dynamics and all that.

...but without Goodreads, I would not be able to quote reviews like the one describing my military sci-fi as "sounds like it was written by Nancy Pelosi's existentialist office aide."
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:11 AM on August 14, 2021 [23 favorites]

I should also say, to treat this topic seriously: the pressure over reviews and Goodreads stuff is real, especially for new authors. Everyone in your writing support group or your trad pub team can tell you it's not a big deal, and they are potentially/probably right--but you don't know that coming into the field, and you definitely feel it. And if you get a bad stream of reviews and your book doesn't do so hot, you'll always wonder if that's a causative thing, because there's really no way to know. The two aren't necessarily related.

My latest urban fantasy launched at the start of June 2020, and just happened to kick off with a protest scene and some Nazi-punching and cops being jerks--in a book that had been in the launch queue since January. I pissed off a bunch of readers with that scene and they 100% tried to review-bomb me. They were a clear minority, but wow did they try hard. (Also, I'm a white man, so all the usual privilege issues are relevant; another author probably would've gotten it worse.)

My sales say it didn't matter--this was book 4 in series, and I have an established readership, and most readers were on board with all that content. I wasn't super worried. But when you're watching it happen, it has an impact, and again if you're a brand new author and you're already part of a community that gets targeted the whole thing can be super ugly.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:27 AM on August 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

I have a StoryGraph account because I wanted to get off Goodreads, but I haven't really used it. I found the focus on recommendations completely baffling and I was surprised to find out that apparently so many people were using Goodreads for recs. Realistically, if I only have 4000-5000 books left in my life, half of those will be rereads and I'll have no trouble choosing the rest on my own considering I have a 'to read' list that grows longer every year and there are books I've been planning on reading since the 90s.

[How do you estimate the number of books you have left in your life? Reading years you have left x number of books you read every year. Reading years are calculated by number of years you have left to live minus the years when you will read less because your eyes aren't what they used to be and you had to switch to audio books which take longer.]

I used Goodreads for two reasons: (1) tracking my own reading and (2) reading two and three star reviews of books that were widely acclaimed, yet I hated. It feels good when you see that other people think that [ridiculous plot twist] was completely ridiculous. Two star reviews are also helpful when deciding to give up or keep reading a book that has been disappointing.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:28 AM on August 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I used to keep my list of books I had read in various spreadsheet programs on various devices (Palm Pilot!) but then I moved to Shelfari back in the day so I didn't have to type in all the info myself. Shelfari vanished and I moved to Goodreads.

I really only use GoodReads for:
1. List of books I have read;
2. Finding new upcoming releases by authors I have read;
3. List of books I'd like to read (mix of upcoming releases from #2, Goodreads recs, other sources).

Access to other people's reviews and star ratings don't make the list. I read a ton of series, and I read a lot, so I really value knowing have I read it already, did I like it, and if so, is another book in the series coming out soon?

Which less evil alternative would be best for these things?
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 12:10 PM on August 14, 2021

Something akin to rotten tomatoes that shoes critics aggregate ratings vs reader ratings?

I was wondering last week why rotten tomatoes seemed to have such unreasonably high scores for big releases lately and did a bit of googling. They are now owned by Fandango. So they sell movie tickets and new releases in movie theaters all seem to have unusually high tomato scores. I'm sure it is just a coincidence.
posted by srboisvert at 1:45 PM on August 14, 2021 has given me lots of really good recommendations and downplays the use and utility of stars.
posted by derbyshire at 2:07 PM on August 14, 2021

To just catalog books to-read or already read. I recently discovered and have started using Reading List. It’s not perfect but I like it pretty well. You can rate books and add notes and tags (via “organize”), and it has no social aspect and no amazon connection, though it does use google books for its database if you want to find a book online. You can also import from (or export to) CSV, and it looks like you can export from goodreads to CSV.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 2:09 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

OK I'm on StoryGraph now. The GoodReads import is slick. The UI hasn't grabbed me yet; it took me awhile to find basic things like "show me all my books". Also I'm not sure I'm interested in the headline feature, the idea of algorithmically recommended books. I much prefer finding books by personal recommendation or me perusing "great works" on some topic. (Ie: the Hugo winners for sci-fi).

I see nothing here that would stop the Story Graph from being just as much a problem for review bombing as GoodReads is. Its charm lies in its obscurity, I guess, but then that's also a weakness IMHO. (See also: Mastodon vs Twitter). Still it's nice just to have a modern UI and not be under the yoke of Amazon.

While I'm here.. The best GoodReads-for-movies is Letterboxd IMHO. I'm on an active search for GoodReads for videogames. Grouvee and HowLongToBeat have been around a few years and have good import/export features. Backloggd looks to be the up and comer. There's also GG but it seems to have significantly fewer users.

Here's a very recent story about StoryGraph: Meet The Book-Obsessed Entrepreneur Challenging Goodreads’ Reign. Her name is Nadia Odunayo
posted by Nelson at 2:38 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I rely on Goodreads' star rating system, but it's weird. Most books released with good or favorable reviews almost always land on 3.5 to 4.0 to 4.5 stars. The vast, vast majority of books only get these ratings. So I have to kind of squint and tell that 4.5 means well-liked but 3.5 means enough people think it's crap. Of course, it also depends on the number of readers.
posted by zardoz at 2:54 PM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Something similar happened to Lauren Hough with her debut book of essays, Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing earlier this year. Hough wrote the I Was a Cable Guy essay that went viral a few years ago (metafilter discussion of the essay)

I started following Hough on Twitter after reading the essay when it was linked here. I barely use Twitter but her snarky comments often made me laugh and I had ordered her book in advance. She made a fairly typical (for her) snarky comment on Twitter around the time her book was coming out calling our Goodreads reviewers for being on "a power trip" and pointing out some of the problems with the site (she used a lot of words like "assholes", "motherfuckers" and "nerds"). I'd link to the tweets but they've since been deleted (some of them here - this person has screencapped them). This then got back to other Goodreads reviewers who didn't like her attitude and started leaving 1 star reviews. In very short order her book dropped from a 4.5* to a close to 1* rating, almost entirely pushed by people who hadn't read her book. Most of those ratings are still up on the site though the overall rating has climbed back up somewhat since as actual readers and some supporters have added their ratings. Goodreads has been informed, they haven't done much of anything.

Anyway, the book of essays got great reviews outside of Goodreads. If you are interested in reading about a lesbian who was in the US military during don't ask, don't tell, was raised in the Children of God, and was homeless in the USA you might want to pick it up. It's not always easy to read (sexual assault, mental health issues) but it is often very funny and always engaging.
posted by Cuke at 3:41 PM on August 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

The opinions of random strangers about a book are worth nothing; one might have hated it because they think the genre is corny or that fiction books are pointless because they're not true or something, another because they regard the author as a political opponent of their side, and another because the point of the book sailed right over their head, and yet another because Amazon took too long to ship it, and so on.

The alleged opinions of allegedly real random strangers, amazingly, are worth even less.
posted by acb at 4:03 PM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Amazon-owned sites with rating systems seem to have the worst content moderation and oversight. IMDB is the same. I have two and a half different entries on IMDB, all under my name: one for a video game I wrote dialogue for, one for a documentary I'm in, and half for the entry where most of my script-work and short-film appearances are, but which has been merged with the entry for an actor/director with the same name.

Because my main entry is tied to an old email address at a dead company, there doesn't appear to be any way to sort this twelve-year-old mess out. At least, I can't make anyone at IMDB answer my requests.
posted by Hogshead at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Something similar happened to Lauren Hough with her debut book of essays, Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing earlier this year.

Not similar, as can be seen in the linked screenshots. Hough attacked people who were giving her book 4 stars instead of 5. She went to Goodreads looking for comments to be mad about and tweeted the GR screenshots. No one was scamming or threatening or trolling until Hough decided to call her readers assholes. After that... honestly, I don't know what she thought was going to happen. If someone called me an asshole for leaving four stars, I'm not going to apologise and bump it up to five. Would anyone? I suppose it's better that Hough kept to Twitter instead of stalking the reviewers who displeased her like Kathleen Hale did.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:20 PM on August 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

The broken parts of Goodreads (lack of moderation, review bombing, etc.) are obviously broken. I hate that these things have been weaponized by trolls and other bad actors.

As a reader, I like Goodreads. It’s one of just a few sites where I regularly encounter capsule reviews that sound like… things actual readers I know might say. A brief “ups and downs of the book” take that might actually be useful in evaluating whether a book’s worth reading. Not inflamed partisanship, not endless logrolling, not “I love this author’s politics, therefore everyone good likes their books,” etc.

I am dismayed as a writer at the truly terrible thing many writers say about Goodreads and its users. Ditto the demands for 5-star reviews, shit-talking anyone who offers less than glowing praise, etc. I appreciate the market conditions that drive many to distraction about this stuff, but I have simply seen too many writers say, in essence, “the opinions of most readers is worthless.”
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:06 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

LibraryThing ftw. It’s older than GR, it has a good (and completely transparent/understandable privacy policy), and it’s for readers, not publishers or authors to promote themselves (though there is an LT author program, mostly so you can see what authors are reading). Self-promotion and bad user behavior seem to be quite effectively controlled. There are some social features, but only if you want to. The originator, Tim Spaulding, owns a controlling interest and he’s good people. ABEBooks owned a minority share, which went to Amazon when they bought ABEBooks, but Amazon has no say in the operation. It once cost $25 lifetime membership to join but now it doesn’t. Income comes from libraries that pay to use its tags and (some) reviews to enhance their catalogs. Your data is not monetized. Cover art is imported from Amazon because they are pretty much the only aggregator of cover art afaik, but you can import book info from many different sources (so it’s better than GR for non-US/European/current titles. Import/export, no problem. There’s a bare-bones phone app and a nifty addition that lets you set up a small library circulation system, Tinycat.

It’s a smarter older cousin to GR that has integrity. Not sure why it isn’t better known. Okay, the color scheme isn’t the best, but we like it that way.
posted by zenzenobia at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2021 [9 favorites]

I am excited to hear of alternatives to Goodreads, because I have been burned too many times by seeing an interesting book in the bookshop, looking up Goodreads to see if it's my thing, and discovering exactly two kinds of reviews: uncritical superfans of the author, who tell me nothing about whether I might like the book; and incensed one-star reviews, which I also can't really base a judgement off because all furious one-star reviews sound the same. Goodreads is a spectacular failure at anything I'd want to use the site for.

I am dismayed as a writer at the truly terrible thing many writers say about Goodreads and its users.

I've always gotten the sense that it was Goodreads specifically and not "readers" in general that raised authors' ire. No-one seems to get too upset about Amazon reviews.
posted by Merus at 7:22 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I rely on Goodreads' star rating system, but it's weird. Most books released with good or favorable reviews almost always land on 3.5 to 4.0 to 4.5 stars. The vast, vast majority of books only get these ratings. So I have to kind of squint and tell that 4.5 means well-liked but 3.5 means enough people think it's crap. Of course, it also depends on the number of readers.
Like zardoz, I use and mostly like Goodreads, but 1-5 star rating systems end up conveying very little information in practice. For producing an aggregate statistics, a three point "Recommend", "Neutral", "Do not recommend" (or even two point) and reporting only a RT style "% recommend" score system works a lot better by reducing the power of disingenuous 1 star and 5 star voters. And by reducing the effect of the people who vote 1 star lower than average on everything thinking only perfect works deserve 5 stars, etc. I started a StoryGraph account last year, and was pretty dismayed that they kept the 1-5 star scale, changing it only by allowing arbitrary fractional stars (which I love for my personal reviews, but I think is useless for improving aggregate scores).
posted by 3j0hn at 9:51 PM on August 14, 2021

I've always hated how Goodreads worked for many reasons, but this is even worse.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:29 PM on August 14, 2021

It sounds like the real problem here might be that somebody in the actual business of books takes Goodreads reviews seriously? I enjoy sites like rateyourmusic or letterboxd which host amateur criticism. I read amateur criticism like professional criticism, i.e. the star rating is meaningful in context of a particular reviewer you are familiar with. I don’t tend to imagine that films or albums live or die by Letterboxd or RYM reviews.
posted by atoxyl at 10:32 PM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Investing in Goodreads was Amazon’s way of getting a whole bunch of reader data at once to use to add to their sales data and tweak their recommendation algorithms way back when. Now they also use it as a way to get people to leak them more data about their reading habits on the off chance that the data they’re vacuuming up has any commercial utility. The community aspects of the site just aren’t anything the company gives a shit about, much like many of the community aspects of Amazon both as a website and as a company.

For book collection tracking LibraryThing is the best thing short of institutional database software typically used by libraries (which is generally pricier than most individuals can afford). The UI isn’t shiny and modern, but the backend is a dream for serious book and database nerds who care about reliable data and metadata and the ability to manage their collection with their own personal tags and ratings.

For book recommendations I don’t think anything algorithmic is likely to process the various and myriad values and tastes that different people have regarding their reading preferences. And any poorly-moderated system that involves anything of value, from money to reputation, is going to end up with bots, trolls, and vandals. Even if Amazon did give a shit about moderation, this would be a substantial challenge. But Amazon definitely doesn’t give a shit.
posted by fontgoddess at 1:10 AM on August 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Merus, I’ve encountered plenty of both! Maybe with a side of stronger concern with Amazon, though, given Amazon’s predominance among booksellers. Again, I do think the terrible current conditions drive so much of it.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:55 AM on August 15, 2021

I like using GR to keep track of my books, and find similar books I might like, that's pretty much it.

And I had a front row seat recently when a fellow cult survivor (Laura Hough) melted down in her twitter responses to some readers commenting that they were giving the book 4 or 4.5 star reviews of her book. She definitely reacted badly and doubled-down when called on her responses, but the backlash was for readers to go and review-bomb her book to the current 2.80 average rating, literally proving the point that the star system is meaningless as a metric to determine a book's quality. The book's in its seventh printing, so those reviewers can go drink ink as far as I'm concerned.
posted by WhyamIhereagain at 9:20 AM on August 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've gotten the best recommendations off of Ask, just sayin'.
posted by Harald74 at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

I vaguely remember LibraryThing having a recommender built on collections. It would tell you what the book was that people with (personal) libraries (or reading histories) most like your library had but you didn’t. And it also could tell you what your anti-books were, the book you were least likely to have. Can’t find it in a cursory search - any current users know if it still exists?
posted by clew at 3:17 PM on August 15, 2021

So I am throwing out there Literature-Map where you type in the name of the author you like and you get authors similar to that author. "What else do readers of [Name of typed in author] read? The closer two writers are, the more likely someone will like both of them. Click on any name to travel along." So it is a nice network discovery map.
posted by jadepearl at 3:56 PM on August 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Oh cool - a cloud of names around a favorite author, and about half are other authors I like abd about half are new to me. Wow! Thanks, jadepearl .
posted by clew at 4:08 PM on August 15, 2021

It allows you to leap through the network of authors listed so it is a nice rabbit hole to burrow for new to you authors. It is not fabulous for very new authors who do not have a certain amount of work but I like it because does not require any information from me nor a subscription.
posted by jadepearl at 4:55 PM on August 15, 2021

I'm in the minority here, but Goodreads substantially improved my reading life. I found a couple of public groups that are focused on the sorts of things I like to read (The Buried Book Club, The Mookse and the Gripes), friended/followed some users whose interests seemed aligned with my own and I've found so many interesting books that I wouldn't have come across otherwise and diversified my reading way more than I ever had in many years. I'm not interested in books that have substantial buzz around them though, so I haven't noticed this terrible side of Goodreads that is being discussed here. It's hardly all terrible.
posted by RGD at 7:56 PM on August 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

My entire Goodreads experience:
Downloaded the app shortly after I got my first smartphone, put a few books I had read up with some stars and no reviews. Like others, I was using it to keep track of what I had read recently.
At some point, the app asked me if I wanted to add all of my Facebook contacts who had Goodreads accounts, and I must have hit yes by accident. The damage was done, and I didn't really think more about it.
Until the next time I logged on, and a Facebook friend (who was really more a friend of friends) EXCORIATED me for having the damn gall to give four stars to a book they didn't like. They went into some detail about how the book was objectively not worthy of four stars, so what the hell was I thinking, etc.
I didn't respond. I deleted the app from my phone, and have never logged in since.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:02 PM on August 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Huh, the Literature Map thing gave me GRR Martin as the closest thing to Pratchett. I'm guessing it doesn't work so well with bestselling authors.
posted by tavella at 8:43 AM on August 16, 2021

And it also could tell you what your anti-books were, the book you were least likely to have.

From a quick search of the forums, the "Unsuggestor" seems to have been removed, as it required too much processing power (and was more amusing than anything else.) The suggestion algorithms are still there, and I find they work pretty well, as these things go. At the very least, they take how common a book is into account when calculating - otherwise the top recommendations for almost every book would be a Harry Potter, Hunger Games or one of the other books that (almost) everyone has.
posted by scorbet at 8:57 AM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

staff. a selected group of readers who can speak articulately about what they like and don't like. and what others have said press reviewers, friends, trusted patrons.

When I worked in bookstores, from 2005 to 2014, the quality of the staff, in terms of even being interested in books, let alone being able to recommend any, went rapidly downhill. Customers went from coming in to buy, to simply coming in to look at a desired book, then going home to buy it off Amazon. The entire atmosphere changed, and not in a way that benefited bookstores. This was a marked, notable shift; I didn't know Goodreads started in 2007, but it sure fits into the picture.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 9:35 AM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Like others I joined GR before the Amazon days and use it to catalogue my reading and to save books I want to read. When I joined, I stumbled around the site for a while and found a number of people (who I didn't know) to follow who were serious book readers with similar taste and who often wrote excellent reviews of books that I then found I wanted to read. I don't generally read random reviews of books. Since Ama$on, I noticed that random people would 'like' my textless reviews (I only use the star system to catalogue my views with a very occasional short review if I really hated the book) that seemed totally fabricated to drum up some sort of something for a book.
posted by bluesky43 at 4:31 PM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

So I am throwing out there Literature-Map where you type in the name of the author you like and you get authors similar to that author.

I'm impressed and creeped out. I put in the name of my fave, and out of the 49 (or 50, counting is hard) names that pop up, there are only 4 writers I can't stand (PJ O'Rourke, Dave Barry, Jonathan Franzen, EM Forster) and one writer I have not read, but has been sitting on my 'to read' list for like 20 years. Is 2021 the year I finally sit down with The Deptford Trilogy? (no) A couple of clicks more and it is a significant chunk of my reading life. It didn't do so well with the Japanese books, but that's not surprising for an English-language site.

I've been complaining for years about Amazon recs and for (checks date) days about StoryGraph recs, but it turns out that I don't actually like it when the algorithm gets me.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:52 PM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I used to use Goodreads to keep track of my reading, and knowing that authors could see what I wrote pretty much spoiled it for me. If I was posting scathing book reviews on my blog, at least the author would have to google it to find what I wrote. Posting the same thing to GR feels too much like tagging in a celebrity on Twitter when you don’t like their work.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:57 AM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

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