If you have not kept up with the latest scandal in the world of young adult publishing, it is a doozy. It involves a debut author with a lot of buzz, lies, clumsy alibis, “review bombing,” a long and sordid confession — and, of course, Goodreads. Because whenever there is a meltdown in publishing, Goodreads, the Amazon-owned site that bills itself as “the largest site for readers and book recommendations,” is reliably at the center of it.
You might wonder if Goodreads isn’t just an enabler of scandal, but the problem itself.
But first, the scandal: Internet sleuths figured out that an author named Cait Corrain, whose debut novel was scheduled for 2024, had created fake accounts on Goodreads in order to review-bomb other books — overwhelming them with negative one-star reviews. When confronted online, she concocted a fake online chat to divert blame to a nonexistent friend; when that hoax was uncovered, she confessed, citing a “complete psychological breakdown.” Her publisher and her agent dropped her; the planned publication of her novel was canceled. As often happens in these scandals, the use and abuse of Goodreads — a site whose cheery name masks a recent history of abhorrent user behavior — has left many people hurt and at least one person’s career in ruins.
Goodreads is broken. What began in 2007 as a promising tool for readers, authors, booksellers and publishers has become an unreliable, unmanageable, near-unnavigable morass of unreliable data and unfettered ill will. Of course, the internet offers no shortage of bad data and ill will but at its inception Goodreads promised something different: a gathering space where ardent readers could connect with writers and with one another, swapping impressions and sharing recommendations. It’s an idea that’s both obvious (the internet is great at helping like-minded people assemble) and essential (reading is a solitary activity but there is great joy in talking through a book afterward). In fact, Goodreads is still an essential idea — so much so that it’s worth fighting to fix it.
When I joined the site in 2007, I felt like I had finally found my place online. At the time, I was still using a physical notebook to keep a list of the books I’d read or wanted to read — so discovering a place to track, rate and review books felt entirely, if you’ll pardon the word, novel. After Amazon’s acquisition of it in 2013, Goodreads seemed primed to either sink or soar. While Amazon had won few fans in the book community thanks to its predatory business practices, it is also the foremost online marketplace for books, and so a companion site dedicated to discussing books seemed like an obvious and potentially beneficial complement.