We’ve had another request from a site visitor to post his/her opinion piece on our blog. Below, Anonymous expresses his/her views on Goodreads’ recent growth, its independent authors, and what is happening to them.
Goodreads likes to think of itself as a social cataloging site for bibliophiles, but its recent phenomenal growth can’t be put down to 12 million people wanting to catalog their books online. Other sites let you do that but have only a fraction of the membership. So what accounts for the fact that Goodreads more than doubled its membership between 2011 and 2012, and looks set to do the same in 2013?
My guess is that a tidal wave of self-published authors has been joining. Back in 2006, when Goodreads was founded, the notion that you could market a book to bestsellerdom using social media (see Amanda Hocking) was new and unheard of. Now it has finally trickled down to the masses, to the point that it’s now part of every indie’s received folk-wisdom, no matter how naive he or she might otherwise be. And Goodreads is always named as a good site to join if you want to schmooze about books.
But this sudden growth in Goodreads membership has brought another problem to the fore: that of amateur reviewers. It’s possible that Goodreads’ founders really did think that the site would be a great place for ordinary book lovers to congregate and swap opinions about books, but they were unprepared for other developments. Some reviewers were quick to realize the power Goodreads gave them, and were not shy about exploiting it. They realized they could review books they hadn’t read, or shelve books under abusive labels, and Goodreads didn’t object to the practise. Some reviewers were book bloggers with their own blogs, and quickly saw that Goodreads could be used to amplify attempts to favor certain writers and undermine others. So they started to use the review system to advance personal agendas, settling scores, and even for entertainment– baiting authors to see how they would react. And they haven’t stopped at Goodreads, but have extended their reach to all social media: now whatever an author says on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere is fair game.
Most writers who hang around on Goodreads are self-published and new to the business, so they make easy marks. They’re oblivious to the politics and the personalities. A lot of them don’t seem to realize that there’s a power imbalance, and it’s not in their favor. A reviewer can trash an author’s book and call all his or her friends in to do the same, but an author can’t really do anything to a reviewer. Too many authors think they can respond to reviews, or even merely disagree with a reviewer in a public conversation without suffering consequences. They don’t see the lynch mob gathering until it’s too late, and many have suffered for it.
But is this a good development for Goodreads? Goodreads doesn’t make money off reviewers, it makes money off writers. It’s writers who pay to advertise there, not reviewers. For comparison, look at Librarything: it charges users if they want to catalog more than 200 books, and has less than one tenth of Goodreads membership. Readers aren’t anxious to pay for the privilege of joining a book cataloging site, even though Librarything has some features which make it a far better place for bibliophiles to socialize.
Goodreads probably figures that the supply of eager indies will never dry up, so it doesn’t really matter to its bottom line if some of them are driven away. But what if the word gets out that Goodreads is becoming a place where writers are attacked if they piss off a reviewer? What if it gets out that there are book bloggers out there who use authors as bait to drive up traffic to their blogs? Will authors still keep flocking to Goodreads, or will they find less angst-ridden ways of promoting their work? If enough authors come to the realization that Goodreads is a dangerous place, it could be the start of a sea-change in the way social media is used to market books.