How Goodreads Broke My Trust

Posted September 24, 2013 by Holly in Discussions | 24 Comments

GRI joined Goodreads in 2009. Prior to that, I didn’t keep a dedicated list of the books I read. I had a vague idea based on my reviews and my read shelf in my personal library (back then 90% of all my reads were print). Many of my friends tracked their reads each month and I wanted to do the same. That’s the whole reason I joined Goodreads and the whole reason I use it now.

On Friday, September 20, at around 11:00 am, Goodreads Customer Care Director, Kara, posted in the Announcements section under the Help banner: Important Note Regarding Reviews.

She states that after careful consideration, they’re revising their ToS and review policy and will be deleting reviews and shelves they feel don’t follow the “spirit of Goodreads”. These reviews/shelves are ones that review the author rather than the book. An example given of a shelf that wouldn’t be allowed is “author-is-a-jerk”.

I’m not necessarily opposed to a change like this at Goodreads. I think they made a mistake in not  addressing these types of problem at their inception. Like many others, I was initially surprised at how lax they were in monitoring the content posted there when I first joined. Then I got used to it and even came to expect it. Admittedly there has been a lot of negativity coming out of Goodreads lately. Authors abusing readers, readers abusing authors, etc. The sad fact is, the drama has ramped up so much many readers don’t want to even visit the site, much less review there. I think a policy change was needed after a group of authors created a website dedicated to “outing” reviewers and posting their personal information online, including phone numbers, addresses and places frequented by their families. Something needed to change, obviously.

What I am opposed to is Goodreads deciding to delete user content without prior notice. This is where Goodreads violated my trust. They started deleting content before they made their announcement and without notifying any of the users whose content was being deleted.

**Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)

They caught a lot of flak for the policy changes but stood their ground.

To clarify, we haven’t deleted any book reviews in regard to this issue. The key word here is “book”. The reviews that have been deleted – and that we don’t think have a place on Goodreads – are reviews like “the author is an a**hole and you shouldn’t read this book because of that”. In other words, they are reviews of the author’s behavior and not relevant to the book. We believe books should stand on their own merit, and it seems to us that’s the best thing for readers.

Again, I am not necessarily opposed to a change of this nature. But Goodreads made a major mistake when they deleted content without notice. They realized that and apologized, but stated the content could not be reinstated long enough to allow the users to export the reviews or change them.

One concern that has come up in this thread is that the content was deleted without those members first being told that our moderation policy had been revised.

In retrospect, we absolutely should have given users notice that our policies were changing before taking action on the items that were flagged. To the 21 members who were impacted: we’d like to sincerely apologize for jumping the gun on this. It was a mistake on our part, and it should not have happened.

While we misstepped by deleting them without advance warning of the policy change, the reviews still violate our review guidelines and can’t be reinstated. If we could, we’d love to retroactively export the content, but unfortunately it’s already been deleted. (Message 2704)

As the thread continues (3000+ comments and counting) Kara continued to respond to questions in a vague and somewhat condescending manner. I did not read all 59 pages (at the writing of this post), but I have grave concerns about the direction Goodreads is heading after reading some of Kara’s responses.

For example, when asked how Goodreads is deciding what shelf names are offensive, her response was:

We don’t comment publicly on individual cases, but in general, what we do is look at a shelf and see how it is used in context. In any case where we have decided to remove that shelf, we are confident that the shelf was being used in a way to review author behavior. (Message 2679)

So initially it was shelves with names like “this-author-is-a-jerk”, but when confronted with the deletion of a shelf named “hormel”, she admits they’re profiling shelves? That doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t like the idea that some nameless, faceless employee at Goodreads is looking at my shelves and deciding for me what I meant by naming/shelving as I did. The terms of the new policy are too broad. Users commenting in the thread are concerned about what they’re allowed to do and what they aren’t. I, too, am confused. Goodreads needs to be specific in what will and won’t be allowed.

The most glaring error on their part, however, is that there has been no official announcement about this policy change. They haven’t sent out an email to their members or made a front-page announcement. The only place this information is available is in the Help section under “announcements”. Goodreads has over 2 millions members and only just over 13,000 (at the writing of this post) have viewed that message. I don’t know about any of the other members, but this is the first time I’ve ever even visited the Help page. If I hadn’t been directed to the link by someone on Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about the changes at all. I’m afraid other members still don’t.

There are a good number of members who won’t care even if they do find out. But there are a good number who will. Why hasn’t Goodreads sent this to all its members?

Lots of people are jumping ship from Goodreads and heading over to sites like Booklikes, Libib and Library Thing.  I can’t say that I blame them. What about you? Will you be staying at GR and braving the stormy season ahead or are you moving your books and reviews elsewhere?

Here are a list of alternative sites. I’ve investigated most of these and admit I haven’t found one that’s as easy to use as Goodreads, but that could partially be because I’m not familiar with them like I am Goodreads.




The Reading Room

Booklikes (this is the site most readers are currently migrating to. The system is running really slow at the moment thanks to the influx)


Most of these sites give the option of importing your Goodreads library, including all reviews. I’ll update as I discover more sites.


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24 responses to “How Goodreads Broke My Trust

  1. Kris Eton

    I guess I am outside of all of this drama. I have never had a ‘war’ with a reader over my books or issues with how people shelve things. To me, GoodReads was a free website for people to use with lots of cool features. If it doesn’t work for you or you feel wronged, I guess you move onto something else.

    Sounds like they are trying to cool off tensions between readers and writers. Maybe they went about it in a clunky or stupid manner by deleting things without warning, but it is their site. Perhaps this type of watchfulness over people’s behavior is the result of Amazon acquiring the site.

    Hope you find something that works better for you. But since this change to GoodReads policy has had no impact on me or any of the reviews I’ve seen of my books, it is a shoulder shrug moment.

    One thing I found interesting, is that 95% of the vitriol over this change seemed to become from women authors and women readers. Not sure what that means, but it was interesting to note. (this, of course, is just my opinion of what I read…maybe it really is more evenly split between the sexes.)

    • I hadn’t noticed that it was mostly women commenting on the change. I wonder if that’s because the members impacted so far have been women? Or because women are often heavier readers then men? Something to ponder.

      I think for now I’ll continue to look for other sites but wait to delete my account until Goodreads makes an official announcement and/or finalizes its policy.

  2. Unfortunately there aren’t any sites I’ve found that I like as much as Goodreads (from a technical aspect). I could stay — nothing of mine has been deleted, and I think it highly unlikely that any of it will — but after the distasterific way they’ve gone about this, I just don’t want to contribute to their community anymore.

    • I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve been playing around in BookLikes and Libib and some other bookish sites since Friday and none of them have lived up to my love for GR. But I do not want to contribute to GR anymore because of the disastrous way that this whole drama has been handled. So I’m kind of stuck.

  3. LG

    I wasn’t going to delete my GR account completely, but the more recent stuff (deletion of “hormel,” “taa,” and “ice-hex” shelves – seriously, they must be devoting a ton of time to this) has made me change my mind. Once I’ve completely migrated elsewhere, goodbye GR account. Although I’m sure they’ll find a way to keep and continue using the data I’ve given them so far.

    Right now, I’m going with a combination of BookLikes and LibraryThing as my replacement, in addition to my usual blogging. I have a feeling that BookLikes is going to go by the wayside for me, though – I hate the user interface and the blogging aspect feels stronger than the social or shelving aspects. I’m getting used to LibraryThing, but they’re way stronger on the shelving/cataloging side than on the social side. I suppose I’ll see after a few months maybe.

    As far as migration goes, my LibraryThing migration has gone so much more smoothly than my BookLikes migration. All my formatting stayed – so far, the only minus has been that 42 books didn’t transfer, so I’ll need to figure out which ones those are and add them manually. I think my BookLikes import is still ongoing after a few days, and post formatting is completely gone, leaving huge blocks of text.

    • I started a LT account so long ago and paid the, I think it was $30 to log more than 200 books? I can’t remember. It’s been that long. I’ll probably play around with that account now that GR just keeps getting deeper and deeper in the crapper.

      As for BooksLikes, I’m not a fan of the blog aspect either. I already have a blog. I just want some place where I can browse for upcoming releases and keep track of the books that I’m reading. I don’t want even more blogs to read.

  4. I confess that I thought this would happen, and sooner rather than later, the moment amazon bought GoodReads. There was no way amazon, which is interested in selling books, would allow readers free reign to discuss author behaviour.

    And the whole “if you focus on the author is not a review” bit is utter bullshit, when you see that gems such as “I love so-and-so, and I’m sure (book coming out next month) is going to be just as wonderful as everything she writes!!!!!!” are not deleted.

    • I knew there was something else I wanted to mention. The fact that they aren’t deleting anything Positive discussing authors is a huge factor for me as well. What they’re saying is “we want authors to feel comfortable here”. Which is a huge departure from their earlier mantra of “Goodreads is a Reader site”.

  5. animegirl31

    I started using Goodreads mostly because everyone was doing it, but mostly I just use it as a database for when I’m looking books (though their search engine is BAD).

  6. Willa

    I’m with Azteclady *waves* – as soon as Amazon announced they had Goodreads I could see the writing on the wall. They just want to use the site as a tool to bump up the sales of books/merchandise ergo only positive reviews thinly disguised under the ‘spirit of Goodreads mantra.

    • Kris Eton

      I guess I am not sure how this new rule ‘bumps up the sales of books/merchandise.’ You are still allowed to leave 1-star reviews and comment negatively in your review about why you didn’t like a book.

      • Willa

        And that will be next. This will be just the start of censoring material that they think will affect their bottom line in the long term.

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