For any avid reader, the ability to keep track of every book you’ve read or want to read sounds like a massive timesaver. Goodreads provides users with this opportunity, but the site is seriously weighed down by its long list of faults.
Over the past handful of years, though, the Goodreads platform has remained the same. The site has seen very few updates of its interface structure and data collection services and its target demographic is growing tired of the stagnance.
With millions of accounts on the site, you would think this one-of-a-kind reading platform would want to stay ahead of the game, but sadly, that’s not the case.
The Good in Goodreads
Primarily, Goodreads was designed as a social cataloging website to help users “meet their next favorite book.” Founded in 2006, Goodreads allows its users to find and review different books on their own time. Like most other social platforms, account holders can follow other users, including authors and reviewers. Today, you can also sort books by genre, track your reading progress on individual books, join reading groups and challenges, and even make a list of books you might want to read later, known as “shelves.”
As of 2019, Goodreads had more than 90 million registered users, making it an ideal place for readers to find books and authors they might connect with. The publishing industry has also found ways to make use of this massive user base by hosting giveaways and author FAQs on the site, which ultimately gives the platform’s reviews and online presence some additional credibility.
Due to the pandemic and the general uptick in online sales, booksellers have never needed online book communities more. “With bookstores closing, internet sites have become critical places for telling readers about books they might be interested in,” The New York Times wrote upon Amazon’s purchase of the Goodreads platform. “This deal further consolidates Amazon’s power to determine which authors get exposure for their work.”
Although Amazon may be one of the entities causing bookstores to go under because of their cheaper prices and the leisure of online shopping, the company is still able to foster one’s love of reading in other ways. Book lovers have continued to read despite the declining number of bookstores, and they have formed book communities without needing to visit a local brick-and-mortar shop.
At its most basic level, Goodreads certainly maintains a small sense of community by allowing users to see what friends and fellow book lovers think about the same books. Users can comment or “like” another user’s review or status update, which is really where most of the user interaction comes from.
Though many of the features available on Goodreads are enticing on paper, they lack depth and gratification in their execution.
A Failure in Progress
“The app provides little satisfaction,” said journalist Noah Keate when reviewing Goodreads. “The prime flaw, in my view, is the eternal spam of irrelevant content.”
Sadly, “irrelevant content” is not all Goodreads users have to worry about. With faulty notifications and self-emptying shelves, Goodreads has also been prone to app issues for years. Although such problems are normally fixed within days, constant fixes should not be expected from the largest app in its niche, especially when that app is owned by the overly powerful Amazon.
The website will recommend books to users, but most recommendations are loosely based on popularity, not the book’s content, leaving the “recommendations” section hardly useful. By default, Goodreads posts all user updates to their friends’ feeds, and though this can be fun on occasion, it often leads to a spamming of unnecessary posts on the homepage. These and other issues stem from well-meaning concepts but fail due to a lack of true structure.
Additionally, the Goodreads interface and design has made little progress since its debut. The website’s color palette consists of an outdated brown and shades of beige. Its blocky structure doesn’t help the site feel modern, either. “I almost feel nostalgic when I logon because it feels like a website I might have perused in the early 2000s as a kid in computer class. And that’s because that’s what it is,” said writer Steph Coelho in her review of the app on Book Riot. “The site has changed minimally over the years.”
Goodreads has yet to undergo a website makeover fitting for today’s world of sleek and vibrant platforms, and it shows. Frequent Goodreads users have been vocal about the site’s painfully outdated look, but if 2013’s change in ownership wasn’t cause enough to give Goodreads a significant makeover, then what is?
In retrospect, while the site managed to financially benefit from the Bezos takeover, the event may be one of the reasons behind its lack of change. Under the wing of Amazon, Goodreads has no imminent way of failing. Even if it does come crashing down, the loss of Goodreads won’t have much of an impact on Amazon’s book sales.
Perhaps Goodreads has not seen any significant change in years because it doesn’t matter; as long as it’s still standing, the site will continue to be the largest and most recognizable of its kind, major flaws and all.
The New Sites in Town
Although Goodreads will likely remain the largest online database of books and readers, other websites can still compete for the hearts of those who have reached their breaking point with the antiquated site.
Recently, several book-related websites were introduced to the online book community, and they sound like promising contenders.
Newer apps such as The StoryGraph, Book Sloth and Bookly are all more visually and categorically appealing than Goodreads, therefore making them excellent options for those who are either tired of Goodreads or have yet to use it.
The StoryGraph in particular, is a simple yet focused site closest to the feel of Goodreads, as it mainly revolves around list-making and title recommendations. When a user reviews a book on The StoryGraph, the site will ask about the book’s mood and pace, whether it’s plot- or character-driven, its style of character development and how diverse the characters are, just to name a few categories. Responses to these questions are then averaged and categorized on each book’s main page, allowing for users to see a comprehensive view of what it’s truly like to read the book, rather than just going off a five-star scale rating and a typical book description.
Additionally, the Goodreads five-star rating system only lets users rate in whole stars, though not every four-star rating conveys the same opinion. The StoryGraph is also efficient in that it lets users set their own star ratings for every book review they post, so they can finally differentiate between a true four-star book and one that deserves a 3.5.
The StoryGraph’s overall greater specificity is especially significant because, on Goodreads, users can leave a false or dishonest review for a book, which will still heavily affect the users’ recommendations. But The StoryGraph doesn’t compare books as much based on their user ratings; instead, its more effective algorithm uses categories and the selected descriptions to recommend books to other users.
The StoryGraph is not the only site that is competing with Goodreads. Book Sloth, for example, has a sleek and cute design geared toward young adult readers, which also uses more descriptive categories to sort and recommend books based on what others say in their reviews. Other sites like Bookly are more about tracking reading rather than finding new titles, and use charts and sets of challenges/goals to motivate readers more effectively than Goodreads’ yearly challenge.
Ultimately, the internet is collectively starting to lean toward more focused and creative reading sites, making Goodreads seem lackluster in comparison due to its lack of progress. If Goodreads could take at least one new risk to make its site more desirable to readers, it could completely eliminate the competition, but such a change would be unprecedented.
Although Goodreads doesn’t seem to be running out of steam any time soon, the platform will eventually have to make some major changes to keep up with its livelier competition.