The book community, online or offline, has become complacent. The ascendency of Bezos has been waved through with little opposition and a feeling that the community has given up. However, there are many sites that offer an alternative to the functions which the reigning titan Goodreads provides in an otherwise Amazon-monopolised field. Sites for this community range from cataloguing and shopping, to journalism and forums.
Let us start with Goodreads, a site which promises much and yet fails to deliver. The reviews tend to put people off as they seem to be perpetually averaged in the three-star range; the site looks dated, the mobile experiment was an unmitigated disaster, and to cap it off they are owned by Amazon. This means the site will never get attention, all Amazon wants is the trapped audience. The sense of community has died, and so I avoid it like the plague. If I want information on books I don’t want to be dragged down by that site’s malaise.
For lack of a better word, this site is a mess. A collection of articles ostensibly about books, yet this seems less about a community or the actual users and more just about whatever the writers feel like writing. It has articles on the homepage on “15 Weed Books”, “14 of the Best Books about Unions”, and “Romancing the Runoff: Romance Authors Raise Funds for Georgia Runoff Election”. Personally, I go to books to escape the world, not to have it chucked back at me. This is not helped by the site being very American, a mess, and has no community to it – except maybe its podcast.
Verdict: acquired taste, overly political, suspiciously corporate.
This somehow became my go to site over the last decade. While I lambasted Goodreads’ aesthetic, FantasticFiction looks like it has never had a visual update. A UK based venture started in 1999, the site is beautifully simplistic, with a simple discovery and record system. You can follow authors, keep your own list of books you have read, and list those you want to read. The search system has improved over the years and is a nice, decluttered area to see what authors have written or are writing, without any of those pesky things called other people’s opinions that cause Goodreads to be so dire. It may not be the best and not really involve user interaction, but as a simple collection of information, it is perfect.
Verdict: old looking, simple, inadequate attempt at community
This is another partially Amazon-owned site via AbeBooks. As the smaller brother of Goodreads, it gets even less attention than the none given to Goodreads by its second-largest stakeholder. If FantasticFiction looks old and Goodreads looks clunky, then LibraryThing is their lovechild. I do like the variety of groups and topics, but being stuck as a non-entity with no hope of evolution, it is sad to think of the wasted potential. 12,000 groups and 232,000 topics, but only 7.3 million messages, so much potential for book lovers. The community is small and will never thrive whilst Bezos is involved.
Verdict: actual community, though small, killed by Amazon.
An online book-selling site, especially good for out-of-print, old, or used books. Unfortunately, this also got eaten by Amazon in 2008.
Verdict: Bezos again.
A very useful tool to find books and where to buy them. Yet again Amazon rears its head as it is owned by AbeBooks, which in turn is owned by Amazon. No surprise it mostly directs to Amazon and AbeBooks.
Verdict: Bezos wins yet again.
A beta site which attempts to create a non-judgemental community based around the website. It learns about each user the more they use it and fill out surveys, and so seems to require a lot of investment to make it work for you. It has reading challenges and you get to see what other people read without them knowing. Whilst it could do with some polish, it is nice to see another upstart in the market.
Verdict: hopeful but slow and a little confusing.
This is one of the major hopes for a Goodreads killer, alongside BingeBooks, that hopes to reinvent community interaction. I have seen the look likened to Instagram and the functionality is tailored specifically for mobile. It has an achievements system to gamify your experience and allows users to interact with each other with recommendations, a rating system using badges, and appears to be good for a social discovery of books and connecting readers together.
Verdict: what Goodreads’ mobile venture wishes it were.