My initial and anecdotal impression has been that Goodreads encouraged fairly considered and balanced observations, while Amazon often offered either blatant adoration of a book or a flippant rejection. Goodreads reviewers were tied to a social profile where people discussed books in a wide variety of group, listed them, commented about reviews and interacted on a more personal basis. And importantly, until Amazon bought them, Goodreads was not directly tied to any retailer. Thus, it would seem Goodreads was more valuable to readers.
Or is it?
Well, neither Goodreads nor Amazon “reviews” are really reviews in the classic sense; they’re recommendations, and anybody can contribute. Many customer reviews aim to provide readers with a reason to either read a book or pass it over. Some are short and sweet, others contain three or more paragraphs of well-supported argument. Some readers like to compare a book to others by the same author or to books by different authors but with similar themes.
These are conversations about books, or, more strictly, they are conversations people have on social media, because online review forums are social media; all part of a great big online book club. Like any social media, the system allowing open reader review of books can be abused; anyone can say anything they like about any book they wish. Both sites invite any reader to contribute; opinion of books is not limited to professional reviewers. As a result, reviews can vary widely, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
I looked to see how some of my favourite novels were treated and found that Amazon raters were the most critical and Goodreads raters were generally closest to my own opinions about the books, but not always! Sometimes Amazon reviewers rated books on tangential issues like ebook pricing, slow shipping and cynicism, which drove the rating down – a shame as the intrinsic value of the work was not assessed.
So what did I conclude?
Well-reasoned ratings and reviews appear on both, but probably more on Goodreads. The best analysed the books in terms of what their creators intended to do. What did this author mean to achieve? Did he or she achieve it and how? How well?
Showing that books can contain good and bad but are still be worth reading is just one of the ways in which good reviewers can benefit readers. Other recommendations may be expressed in simple terms, but if they contain a lot of passion and enthusiasm they show the reader has become involved with the book and wishes to share those feelings, something equally valid. After all, a book is meant to take you into an emotional experience.
Customer appraisal is vital for decent online sales; in today’s recommendation world this is indisputable. And I relish reading mine for the feedback – gold for any writer. But do readers today care whether they have access to other people’s reviews and recommendations? What do you think?