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Goodreads. A Great Site, But…..

goodreadsThere’s no doubt that Goodreads is one of the most popular sites on the Internet for readers and authors. It has developed into a Facebook styled book site, and in the last few years has streaked ahead of similar sites such as Shelfari.

The only problem is that while Goodreads may be popular, it has not had a site update for so long now, that in all honesty, it is showing its age. 2009 was a very nice year, but not one that a popular website needs to be stuck in. Added to this are some functionality issues that are making the site increasingly difficult to like. Here are some areas I would love to see Goodreads address in the near future to make it what it should be. The premier book site on the Internet.

Navigation. The only word for this is hopeless. Finding anything on the Goodreads site is an absolute nightmare. While it does have a decent search function for finding books and authors, like most sites do, trying to delve much deeper leads to frustration.

Users. In the last year especially, the site has become extremely popular with self published authors. This is a good thing. But as with any good thing, there are those who will spoil it. Each day I am inundated with authors trying to flog their books to me by either events, messages or book recommendations. I would really like to see the focus of the site return to readers and not be taken over by over zealous ‘book flogging’ authors.

Author Pages. While on authors, the site has one odd restriction. As with Facebook, there are two account types on Goodreads. A user profile account and an Author Page account. A user profile is limited to 5,000 ‘friends’ like Facebook, but where Facebook’s Pages has an unlimited follower allowance, Goodreads limits an Author Page to 5,000 user also. This is ridiculous. There must a be long queue waiting to follow J K Rowling huh? More realistically though, I have hit this limit, which means no new readers can follow me. Rather bad for business.

Buy Books. This may seem a little too logical, but why can’t readers buy books and ebooks from Goodreads? There is a ‘pretendy’ ebook sales area, but it takes too much effort to make it worth using for both publishers and readers. Yes, there are ‘buy links’ to online retailers, but wouldn’t it be much better for both readers and publishers if Goodreads itself was a genuine online ebook retailer?

Copy Facebook. Yes Goodreads. Just copy the good bits from Facebook and make your site into a modern and genuine social media site for those of us interested in books and reading. Too simple?

20 comments

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  1. Jack Eason

    I could not agree with you more Derek if I tried.

    Being polite about Goodreads, it is nothing more than an ill conceived mishmash of ideas. Don’t get me started on trying to navigate around it, or for that matter simply finding an author or their book!!! As for easily finding the many groups?????

    While it is an excellent way to advertise your own work it leaves much to be desired when it comes to connecting potential readers with books. Comparing it with similar sites like Shelfari it scores highly.

    But its a great shame it isn’t set out properly like AuthorsDen with the end user in mind…

    1. Derek Haines

      I really think Goodreads could take a few tips from Facebook Jack. It’s just not very friendly.

  2. sabrynne

    Hi Derek,

    I think my biggest annoyance is, I suppose, my own fault, but I would never have anticipated it to be an issue. I initially published my book with one cover and then, after getting luke-warm feedback on it, decided to hire another designer and change the cover. I never thought GR would decide it has the right to keep me from deleting the old cover. On the site, it lists it as an “alternative cover” and shows it first. The old cover is no longer sold so it isn’t an alternative, and I really would rather just forget about it altogether.

    I thought about deleting my account and starting from scratch, but I figured they would object to that as well, so I gave up on it. I guess the main irritation is that I chose to self-publish because I wanted to keep my control over all aspects of my book, so being forced to do something against my will is infuriating.

    1. Derek Haines

      I know what you mean Sabrynne. I have a couple of old unpublished books still showing on Goodreads and haven’t been able to delete them. It seems once a book has an ISBN, Goodreads wants to keep it. Even if it’s unavailable. Very annoying.

  3. Chihuahua Zero

    Your argument on Goodreads navigation comes off to me as too general. I’m more confused than convinced. What else is there to search besides books and authors that makes searching “hopeless”?

    1. Derek Haines

      I could bore everyone with a long list Chihuahua. But just to start, the ebooks link leads to an unsorted list that cannot be sorted by genre. The similar authors link leads back to the exact same author. Reviews for an author is not clickable, and finally, if you’re an author, editing books is hidden in an enigma that is an excuse for navigation. That’s just an appetiser on how hopeless the navigation on Goodreads really is. I chose the word ‘hopeless’ with intent.

      1. Chihuahua Zero

        That was what I was reading for. Inconvenience for the authors is a point off toward Goodreads. I’ll be linking this in my writing round-up.

        Personally, I’m more neutral about Goodreads. I’m not a fan of it, but I don’t dislike it in any strong ways.

  4. Robert Chazz Chute

    Good post. I’ve found it frustrating in trying to manage my author account on Goodreads. Rather than confront the problem, I’ve done less with it and focussed my energies elsewhere.

    Care to take on the Smashwords website next, Derek? If ever there was a website that needed an update from the ’90s, Smashwords is it. I say this because I like them and we need Smashwords to become a destination for readers, not just writers. Mark Coker is a smart guy. I wish he’d make a website revamp a higher priority.

    Cheers!

    Chazz

    1. Derek Haines

      I agree Chazz. Smashwords are really in need of a makeover. But from little rumours I’ve heard, keep your eyes on both Goodreads and Smashwords this year. They would make lovely dancing partners huh? :)

  5. Andrew Claymore

    Goodreads does need a little work. I cringe at all the ‘event’ emails. It’s just some guy flogging a book, it’s not an event. Sort of like how Walmart does their famous ‘Rollback’ ads. All that means is that they quietly creep the prices up for a few weeks and then they loudly proclaim a ‘Rollback’ to the original price. It’s not an event – just an attempt to make you think you’re getting a deal.

    The book flogging is probably the biggest problem on the site. It doesn’t sell books and it just makes readers angry. Book spamming has led to the current backlash, where some readers band together as vigilantes and go after offenders, though a few innocents seem to end up as collateral damage.

    Say no to spam, kids. Especially if you’re buying sushi in Waikiki (I still don’t understand how spam sushi ever came into existence).

    1. Derek Haines

      I think that’s the worst part Andrew. Goodreads has become spammer author heaven and little has been done to combat it. It drives me nuts.

  6. Susan

    Good post! As a reader and an author, of course I am on Goodreads. When I first heard about the site, I was excited, went over there, and started exploring. But, after a while, I lost interest, and only head to the site one a week or so when I try and update my “friend” requests and recommendations.

    The site has so much potential, but it’s just too unwieldy right now.

    Here’s something I find weird. A friend posts a review and gives a book 5 stars in that review. However, when you click on the book in the general search part of the site, that review doesn’t show up there. All you get are people who’ve just “rated” it.

    And it is so pointless not to be able to link to a sales site. Authors and publishers should be given the option to link to their own website for purchase, Smashwords, Amazon, anywhere!

  7. Amanda

    Wholeheartedly agree with most of your points, except I’d be afraid turning Goodreads into a retailer would actually exacerbate the book-flogging problem.

    Being able to batch-edit my friends list and to mark group threads as “read” would be great, as would a user search function. Surely these things aren’t too hard to implement.

  8. Melissa Kinnel

    I signed up for GR a few years ago but really didn’t bother with it. Then a few months ago I decided to actually use it and I’ve found it to everything you described. I thought I was losing my mind since I seem to be one of the last cavemen/women not using the site. Really? Is this what I’ve been missing out on? Hmm… Perhaps GR will hear your cries and turn over a new leaf. Let’s hope and dream at least.

  9. Weirdmage

    I think I see where most of your problems with Goodreads come from. You want it to be something different than it is. Goodreads is a reader community, and also a place to keep, and show off, a virtual bookshelf for readers.
    I’ll go into more detail on some of the points mentioned in the post and comments:
    -As a reader (and reviewer) it’s important to me to be able to put the correct edition of a book in my bookshelf. For me to be able to do that, all covers, and editions, of a book has to be available.
    -Following that, searchabilty is not a big issue for most users. When you want to shelve a book, you already have it, and can search by ISBN to get the right edition. Easy searchable lists isn’t an issue I’ve ever seen readers talk about as lacking on Goodreads.
    -Goodreads is a social network, not a retailer. That they have buy links is more than enough for the vast majority of users. And I’m pretty sure that they would see a sharp drop in active users if they became a retailer. (It has been talked about.)
    -This needs saying again, Goodreads is for readers, not authors. All the “buy my book” spam, and several authors going mental about reviews have led to more and more Goodreads users suggesting authors be banned from Goodreads. Many of them want a zone where they can talk about, and review books in “private”, i.e. away from authors and publishers. (Some people are very uncomfortable wit authors commenting on their reviews, even when the author just says “thank you” for a positive review.)

    Basically, be aware that Goodreads is for readers. Don’t go to Goodreads as an author, even though you are one, go there as a reader. (But do make an author page,!) Shelve the books you have read, of course including your own, rate and review books, and talk about the books you like to read with other readers.
    Basically, take a break from being an author, and just be a reader. The authors I know who do just that seem to enjoy Goodreads.
    Of course the readers on Goodreads will know you are an author, so there’s no need to hide that. But I think you’ll benefit more from Goodreads as an author if you go there to be friends with other people who enjoy books. -I know that I am much more likely to choose a book by an author I have talked about other books with than one who has only talked about his/her own books. And I know I’m far from alone in that.

  10. Lorinda J. Taylor

    I agree that Goodreads could use some simplification! But I’ve been using it more lately, with some results. I was invited to join a group with the strange name of Booksy Cup Freebies and Bargains, which exists solely for self-promotion. I posted my little free novelette as a Smashwords Giveaway and I’ve had some business through that, including getting a review and having all my other books put on someone’s to-read list.
    I have the same problem that some of the commenters above refer to. It you want to delete an edition of your own book, for example (and some of mine say three editions when there are really only two), you can’t do it yourself. But you can ask a Goodreads librarian to do it. I did this once, because I happen to have become online friends with somebody who is a Goodreads librarian. I don’t want to refer you to her because I think she has too much on her plate now. But I’ll tweet her and ask her if she’ll comment over here about how to find a Goodreads librarian.

  11. Tammy Salyer

    Agreed! The site has some funky navigation that lead to some surprising results while messing around on there. I actually use it as a procrastination tool when I’m shifting between projects. “Now, if I click here, what happens…?”

  12. Fel Wetzig

    I enjoy Goodreads but it is what it is. I have author friends who love it and author friends who hate it. I currently approach it more from the reader/reviewer perspective, since I’m not yet a published author, but I also volunteer as a librarian.

    The biggest problem that I’ve encountered, especially with independent or small press authors is, as Lorinda mentioned above, that authors can’t change the information for their own books. When Goodreads started, anyone could change information for books, but that became a problem and now people have to apply and be approved for that privilege. I don’t know how much control authors have over any of the information, but I’ve been contacted about everything from removing duplicate copies to adding or correcting information and straightening out books in a series (I’ve also been asked to delete books, but we aren’t allowed to do that except under very rare and specific circumstances, nor do we have any control over reviews). Even if books or certain editions are not available, the policy is to keep the information–making it somewhat like a book archive rather than a database of currently available books.

    Overall, my best advice to the independent or small press authors is to befriend a librarian. The best place to go for help would be the librarians group–non-librarians are allowed to join to request changes or comment. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/220-goodreads-librarians-group

    1. Lorinda J. Taylor

      Thanks for responding, Fel! I’m sure this information will be helpful to a lot of confused people. I’m going to copy your comment into my own general information document so I can refer to it as needed!

  13. Helen FitzGerald

    These Eejits have no record of more than half of my very favourite Authors

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