What Goodreads Meant to Me

I spent months lurking on Goodreads before I eventually joined in 2009, but once I did, I was hooked. Money drained from my account and into Amazon’s as my reading appetites increased exponentially. Connecting with other “weird” people who loved books as much as I did helped me enormously, having never heard of the term ‘introvert’ before. I’d finally found my tribe, my people. People who rarely failed to bring a smile to my face and never looked down on me for being a geek. ‘Reading’ and ‘Goodreads’ quickly became synonymous with ‘freedom’, ‘escape’, and ‘relax’.

Paradise, thy name was Goodreads.

I’ve invested thousands of hours of my free time visiting the site on a daily basis for my fix, and I’ve always said I’d happily pay a subscription fee to ensure the place I loved preserved the same quality and values it had when I first registered for an account. It’s got me through some incredibly tough times and I will be forever grateful for that. It was my safe haven tucked away from the real world, and I believed no one could take it away from me.

The Beginning of the End: Authors vs. Reviewers

And then Melissa Douthit lost her shit and ruined it. She was the cancer that infected Goodreads in July 2012, after she was banned from using the site for her persistent trolling. Naming and shaming intelligent and articulate Goodreads reviewers, painting a target on their backs by sharing their personal details online simply because they wrote negative reviews and wouldn’t stand for unethical or unwarranted author behaviour, such as plagiarism and the use of sock puppets. Her behaviour inspired other authors to use similar tactics, and then it seemed “badly behaving authors” were everywhere – the majority of them self-published.

My once carefree community now had an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. No one wanted to be victimized for expressing their opinion. Many lost their enthusiasm for reviewing, including me. If few feel they can write a negative review, then all that’s left are the positive ones. What value do they have when there’s nothing to contrast them against?

Goodreads Chose its Side: Authors

In the early days, GR had been operating as a place primarily for readers, but slowly introduced incentives for authors to participate on the site. Balancing the needs and desires of both authors and readers proved an impossible task as they were mutually exclusive; pleasing one group usually meant irritating the other. Peaceful co-existence was never going to last. Goodreads had to pick a side. Two weeks ago they quietly announced their decision.
Last year, not long after setting up shop, Douthit implemented her flagging campaign to have certain negative reviews deleted from GR, instead, without ever acknowledging Douthit and STGRB’s existence, they started controversially hiding reviews detailing bad author behaviour. And now, in 2013, they’re deleting them.

I was devastated. My home away from home was no longer safe from outsiders or those within. Obsession glued my eyes to my laptop screen, desperately hoping GR would come to their senses, change their mind and do a u-turn. No such luck, despite my beloved community banding together to passionately protest this change by contributing to the movement in various ways, including this brilliant piece of journalism. But Goodreads appeared deaf, dumb, and blind to even the most influential: those on the Most Popular Reviewers in the World list who also took offence at the censorship.

I did my bit to contribute.

During the two weeks since GR’s fateful low-profile announcement:

  • I wrote this summary post to inform GR members unaware of the changes;
  • I posted links to the above in many different places;
  • I added “{Against GR Censorship}” to my username;
  • I requested the ability to download book status updates;
  • I requested an increased character limit for private notes and/or the ability to make our reviews and shelves private;
  • I stopped adding librarian edits, books, ratings, reviews, etc.;
  • I joined BookLikes and imported my books, ratings and reviews;
  • I invited all my friends to the Everything BookLikes group which included a link to my above-mentioned summary;
  • I “liked” protest status updates and reviews in an effort to spread the word.

Days and weeks went by and I lost hope. I see myself restricting my use of GR to cataloging, groups, and status updates. Links to WordPress and BookLikes will replace text in reviews – I’m not providing free content to be deleted at the whim of GR staff. The only entities allowed to censor me are the law and my conscience.

R.I.P. Goodreads

The one thing I can’t blame on Douthit is Amazon buying Goodreads, which has brought its own problems. The buggy Ugly Green Button and an unappreciated larger Readers Also Enjoyed section displacing Other Editions on the book page, to name a couple. With Amazon’s $$$ I expected numerous bugs to be fixed, and removed or suspended features to be restored. If anything, things have got worse. Email notifications are still patchy, top lists never update properly (if at all), sometimes the site is slow or won’t load properly, recommendations have never really worked, and countless other things. It’s falling apart.

So even if GR repealed its censorship policy, it’s not home anymore. The trust is gone, but I still have my memories and the growing GR refugee population on BookLikes.

BL has welcomed us with open arms, doing everything they can to get us settled in by implementing features we’d used on GR. BookLikes CEO Dawid Piaskowski raised eyebrows when he denounced STGRB and its supporters. We all sat up and took notice. He’d done the one thing no other media company had.

Quite frankly he’s a breath of fresh air. He smoothed ruffled feathers with a couple of simple comments that were apparently too hard for his counterpart at GR to type. Otis Chandler could learn a thing or two from him. Plunging your head in the sand accomplishes nothing, it just allows a situation to escalate. Dawid has profited from Otis’s missteps.

My only concern is Dawid’s plan to move the BL HQ from Poznań in Poland to either GR’s neighbourhood in California or New York by Christmas. This worries me.

Will rubbing shoulders with their competitors infect BL with the same problems?

I sincerely hope not.


4 thoughts on “What Goodreads Meant to Me

  1. Great post, Ames. You’re such a great writer. I always appreciate your hard work and dedication to ensure that your fellow readers and reviewers are up to date on current events in the world of books, including the current chaos involving Goodreads.

    Similar to you, Goodreads has been a soothing retreat for years. I do not have words to express how sad it is to see that retreat violated and turned upside down. I hope that those of us who have come together to simply and honestly discuss the books we love (and those we don’t) will not lose touch, even if that means finding a new retreat.


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