Edition 2 2021

Why I’m Breaking Up with Goodreads

23 April 2021

In April 2010, I opened a Goodreads account. On January 24 2021, I deleted it.

Like many readers, I used Goodreads to track the past, present, and future of my reading. I also created custom shelves to ensure books written by authors from diverse backgrounds did not disappear into the abyss that was my “to read” shelf. Goodreads was my frenemy for many years, and I dithered for months until I finally downloaded my library file and closed the account for good.

I had that account for nearly eleven years. When you hold something for that long, no matter what it is, it can be hard to let go. However, Amazon is the freaking devil.

Amazon purchased Goodreads in 2013. The sale brought greater convenience in getting your hands on books you shelved, but at the cost of giving money to the walking human rights violation that is Jeff Bezos.

Pre-pandemic, American Amazon warehouse workers would be on their feet for twelve-hour shifts, surviving on pain medication. Bathroom breaks were strictly monitored and workers would urinate into bottles to avoid a reprimand. Workers were meticulously tracked for maximum productivity, because the actual dystopia is the reality we found along the way. Australian warehouse workers also experience strict monitoring, informing the ABC that their performance was timed to the second. They were pressured to skip bathroom breaks and cut corners on safety.

Bezos has become richer during the pandemic, without passing wealth onto his employees. Trickle-down economics was a lie this whole time! Surprise, surprise. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union alleges that Amazon is exploiting the pandemic to “increase its market dominance as well as its power over employees”. Pre-pandemic, a quarter of American warehouse workers were direct Amazon employees. As of September 2020, that figure has increased to one third.

Workers told Al Jazeera in October 2020 that Amazon reinstated draconian productivity quotas leading up to Prime Day, despite telling a judge they had been suspended during the pandemic. What happens next will not shock you. At the beginning of October, Amazon admitted that approximately 20,000 of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19. For reference, Australia’s total cases as of October 8 2020 stood at just over 27,000. Amazon has over 1 million employees in the US; Australia has over 25 million people. Amazon absolutely should have known this would happen. They just don’t care because they are actual demons.

Not only is Amazon cartoonishly evil, but Goodreads is simply not a good website.

The search function is ugly, clunky and borderline useless. Searching for a specific book can result in either failure or its burial beneath a pile of irrelevant titles. The thing is also dreadfully unforgiving of typos. This hits self-published and small press authors the hardest, especially when other book titles or author names are similar.

Their review guidelines are also a nightmare. Say, for example, an author says something extremely bigoted, and you would like to warn other readers in your review. If you’re even the slightest bit unlucky, that author, their partner, or some random racist/homophobe/transphobe/ableist (etc.) will report you to Goodreads and get your review taken down. According to the guidelines, they’re in the right. You are not permitted to make comments about the author, even if your criticism is valid. Goodreads literally threatened to ban me for doing this. Because apparently keeping marginalised readers safe is not high on their priority list.

Finally, the gamification of reading encouraged by Goodreads has damaged my capacity to enjoy reading. At first, it was satisfying to check off books as I finished them, but I quickly avoided engaging with material that was not catalogued on the site. Very late capitalist of me. Their reading challenge made this worse, as only items found on their database could count towards the total number of books read. I crave attention and praise, making me extremely susceptible to this feature. I felt I wasn’t “allowed” to read something that was not screened by the Amazon overlords.

Many services we use are varying kinds of evil, but we often don’t have reasonable alternatives. Fortunately, there is an alternative to Goodreads: The StoryGraph, founded by Nadia Odunayo in 2012. Not only does it have most of Goodreads’ shelving features, but it learns your reading habits to give decent recommendations. This goes beyond genre, and includes the pacing and mood of the story.

Better yet, you can import your Goodreads library onto it so you don’t lose any books.

StoryGraph uses tags instead of custom shelves. I have therefore lost my “nope” shelf for books I want to ensure I never read. You could instead use the StoryGraph’s “Did Not Finish” shelf and attach a “DO NOT” tag of your choice. This is a minor inconvenience.

You can more easily include content warnings in your reviews and set up a reading challenge if you choose. It’s not in-your-face, which makes a nice change. The overall intent of StoryGraph is discovery, which feels much nicer than the clunky capitalist nightmare that is Goodreads.

Breaking up with Goodreads is but a small rebellion in a society where everything we do is surveilled and categorised by billionaire corporations… but we have a rare choice here. A choice to cut just one of the many marionette strings controlled by Amazon.

Chop chop, kids.


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