This Lowdown post concept actually came from a post I saw on the epic reads Facebook group I’ve been a part of. A member shared an article they had found where someone had written about Goodreads reviews/reviewers, and their thoughts on them. Most of it was a commentary on how bad the reviews on the site are, and how it should be controlled, but it does raise the question of expectations and what Goodreads ultimately is for in the book community. There were a lot of points made in the article, but the ones I really want to go into are that of the purpose of Goodreads, reviews in general on the site, and the question of who our reviews are really for. If you are interested in reading the article, you can find it here. Before going into why I think some of these points are misguided, I do want to say that there are solid arguments made in the article, and I do think that Goodreads does have a lot of room for improvement, especially since it hasn’t changed since I joined in 2015 :(.
So to start this off, what is Goodreads? It’s not a question asked because we don’t know, but rather of the purpose or goal behind it; a reading community. Between the forums, reading groups, lists, and other tools on the site it is easily apparent that Goodreads focuses on building a community of readers. So the reviews? I see them as a result of such a community. They are written and shared with the intent of sharing an opinion, or overall experience whether the writer wants others to join in their happiness or warn others of a negative one. This is just bringing up the main use of the site, not those who are writing reviews professionally or the trolls we’ve seen on any platform. Let’s be clear, trolls exist on every platform, so Goodreads is just as susceptible to that. There have been instances where an author has been targeted before a book has even come out, but the same can be said of Youtube, Twitter, etc. The internet is a scary place just as much as it is a welcoming one, in the case of the targeting this is an aspect of where Goodreads could improve, but more in the sense of maintaining “friendly” guidelines rather than restricting types of reviewers.
This leads us to the two big points I disagreed with; the view of reviews on the site, and who those reviews are for. The overall sentiment that I took away from the article was that the reviews on Goodreads were either basic, unhelpful or harmful. Yes, there was an acknowledgement of the good reviewers, but overall the writer seemed to see Goodreads reviews as a problem for the publishing world. This was why I outlined what Goodreads was created for in the earlier paragraph; it’s a reading community. Not every reader will be the same, either in opinion, or voicing of that opinion. The quality or justification for a rating can be rough at times, but it’s a social site so it’s the equivalent of a twitter post in my view not an article for the New York Times. These are also everyday readers, so expecting a top notch literary analysis with grammar and critical thinking equivalent to an individual doing it as their job/career would be taking away from the open community Goodreads provides. In addition, I think some of the short reviews could have a number of explanations as to why they exist in the first place, one of them being the hope of winning giveaways, or challenges in a reading group. They are just reviews that exist, and occasionally end up on reddit threads or the bad Goodreads reviews twitter page at this point. Do they sometimes hide great reviews? Yes, but for readers interested in researching a book those aren’t the reviews getting attention, trust me on that.
So, who are reviews for? In journals, and big review sites it’s for readers, publishers and authors. The movie critics and rotten tomatoes scores are separate for a reason, the critics getting their say, and the audience ultimately having an opinion of their own (generally very different). That isn’t to say either are wrong, it’s to say that both are consuming differently and for different reasons. The same can be said for Goodreads, readers are consuming content, and as such are looking to find out where to spend their hard earned cash. In the scope of who I listen to for movies, I go by rotten tomatoes personally. They are scores based on similar viewers acknowledging the bits of perfection and flaws in a work, all while measuring it against how much they enjoyed it. Enjoyment truly is a factor in viewing, reading, or consuming entertainment, books included, and critics don’t always agree with the audience on what is good. I acknowledge that reviewers on Goodreads aren’t always looking at the complexities in the book, or thinking of the authors’s feelings/intentions in the writing of their own thoughts, but I also respect that this is their space to voice what they felt. I honestly value the openness of the reading community, and don’t wish to see it restricting who and what is allowed in the space. Readers tend to follow reviewers they either agree with or trust to give good opinions, so I wouldn’t even say that all reviews are created equal as was pointed out. Good reviews tend to get noticed overtime and are shared or liked for a reason. I guess this was all to say that Goodreads does exactly what it is meant to; lets readers have a community. Yes, it has become a tool for authors and publishers to spread the word about books and build anticipation, but in the end it puts readers first.
This was a tough one to write out, mainly given that there were quite a few points made in the article, and I wanted to both understand where they were coming from, but give my own take. In the end, I think Goodreads is hit with the same issues as many other social platforms where conversations tend to revolve around how much we should monitor/restrict content and users. I do also think that today’s authors have a tougher experience than authors who wrote even in the early 2000’s, 90’s, or before that given the accessibility we now have to their lives through social media, events, and how our thoughts can easily reach them. I love getting to meet authors, fall in love with their work, and appreciate the hard work, sweat, and tears that go into creating the books that I pick up. What are your thoughts on Goodreads? What improvements do you dream of seeing on it? What did you think of both arguments? Let me know in the comments below!