I’m a little late to the Goodreads review scandal. Late last year, an author whose debut book was due to be published, wrote several fake reviews of books by other authors that were due out at the same time, and posted positive fake reviews of her own book. Unfortunately for her, she was found out, and dropped from her book deal.
But, as the above-linked New York Times article states, Goodreads isn’t in a good place right now. It’s been around since 2007, although I joined in 2016 and first blogged about it in 2017. This was after Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads in 2013.
In the almost eight years that I’ve used Goodreads, it has barely changed. There have been annual Readers Choice Awards, and the annual reading challenges, but other than a change to book information pages in 2021, it feels like Amazon has basically abandoned it. The iOS app gets ‘bug fixes and performance improvements’ on a regular basis, but I suspect that these are updates to downstream code libraries and not a result of actual work by Goodreads developers.
Its recommendations of new books to try have always been terrible, and it’s reliant on volunteer librarians. Which wouldn’t be an issue if Goodreads was a non-profit, but it’s owned by one of the world’s most valuable conglomerates. Giving away labour for free to such enterprises doesn’t sit well with me, even if it’s something I’ve done a lot in the past.
So, Goodreads both has a problem with fake reviews, and a lack of interest from its owner. So what are the alternatives?
I tried out The StoryGraph about a year ago. You can import your reading history from Goodreads during the onboarding process, and its recommendations are much better, as its design. There are mobile apps, reading challenges, and giveaways where authors can offer limited free copies of their books, presumably to generate some reviews.
The StoryGraph does have social features like Goodreads, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way of importing contacts from elsewhere. Quite a lot of my friends use Goodreads and I’m sure some of them use The StoryGraph too, but I don’t know how many because I can’t seem to find them. If there’s an ‘import contacts’ option in the iOS app, then I haven’t found it.
Another site that I’ve heard about, but haven’t yet signed up to, is Bookwyrm. It uses ActivityPub and is therefore part of the Fediverse, so you can follow people using Mastodon clients, for example. You can use the bookwyrm.social instance, but you can also install and host it yourself. Importing from Goodreads (and other services) is supported.
I’m aware of some friends who use Bookwyrm, so it may avoid the issue I’m having with The StoryGraph where I can’t find my existing contacts.
And there are many other Goodreads alternatives
I suppose it will come down to what my existing friends use, and getting large numbers of people to change platforms happens rarely. We’ve seen many challengers to Twitter rise and fall over the years (Andy Baio posted an excellent eulogy of Ello this week) and it’s only because X/Twitter has become utterly terrible in the past 15 months that a significant number of people have moved to the likes of Bluesky and Mastodon. And some are still left behind.
If we follow that model, then Goodreads would have to become significantly worse, before people start looking for alternatives en masse. Right now, it’s just stagnant; clearly not a priority for Amazon, but not so badly broken as to require much of an intervention. I certainly can’t see it joining Bookwyrm in the Fediverse.