Comparing Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing
There has been a lot of reaction to the announcement that Amazon is buying Goodreads, an independent review site.
When I first heard about it, I speculated a bit that they might shut down Shelfari (another social reading site which Amazon owns), and fold it into Goodreads.
However, I also said I wanted to investigate Goodreads more, and my hope now is that they don’t do that without combining features.
The two of them actually function quite differently…as does LibraryThing. Amazon owns Abebooks, which has, I think, a 40% stake in LibraryThing…but LT has emphatically said that they are not owned by Amazon, which I think is a reasonable interpretation.
I wanted to go through here and compare the three. This isn’t to say that you (or Amazon) have to pick one…you can use all three. Right now, though, that would mean entering your books into each of them (although there is some possibility of importing), so you’d have to think about it.
With any site with a social factor, you also have to consider the “social capital” you have to spend on it to be a “good citizen”. That’s why I don’t use Facebook: I know I couldn’t expand my energy and attention to the point where I wouldn’t anger people with non-responsiveness there. I already have “real life”, my job, this blog, my other writings, and the Amazon forums. People who e-mail me realize, I hope, that I won’t always get back to them quickly. Being on Facebook, too? I just don’t have the bandwidth.
Before I get started, let me say that I’m going to look at different aspects. One key question: do you use the site to catalog and analyze and share what you are already own, or to discover new things to read? You could certainly do both, but my immediate thought for a site like this is the former. I want to catalogue my books, and record information about them. That’s probably not why Amazon bought Goodreads. They clearly want sites like this to drive future sales. Understanding you is helpful in that regard, but they probably don’t care that you put five different versions of the same book on your “shelves” to reflect your paper collections.
That said, let me first give you an overview:
“The right book in the right hands at the right time can change the world”
- Members (all numbers per their website): 16 million
- Books added: 525 million
- Reviews: 23 million
Founded by Otis and Elizabeth Chandler, the site has been around for about six years. The homepage emphasizes three key functions:
- Add friends and see what is on their “shelves”
- Rate books you’ve read to get recommendations
- Add books to your own shelves
Clicking on a book gives you ratings and reviews.
There’s no question that one of the attractions of Goodreads is its sheer size.
Shelfari doesn’t make a lot of their numbers available publicly. It was founded in 2006 by Josh Hug, Kevin Beukelman, and Mark Williamson, and acquired in 2008 by Amazon.
The homepage has three tabs:
“What’s on your bookshelf?”
- Members: 1,666,713
- Books: 81,133,380
- Reviews: 2,146,228
Founded in 2005 by Tim Spalding, it’s actually the oldest of the three.
The homepage has
- Your Books
- Add Books
Next, let’s compare a few specific books. After that,I’ll give you more of my sense of the sites.
A Popular Besteller:
I know this isn’t current right now, but it’s in the public consciousness. I also thought it was one where one could expect a lot of activity. I’m just doing the first book, not the series, for the sake of comparison. So, how does each site treat it?
The average rating is 4.45 out of five stars. There are 1,499,207 ratings and 114,780 reviews.
There is a lot happening on this page!
You can click Stats and see a line graph of activity (how many times it was added, reviewed, and so on) for about the past six months.
They list 146 other editions of it.
You can buy it a variety of places, and look for it in libraries (through a link with WorldCat, which I’ve written about before).
If you’ve designated “friends”, you can see their reviews. You can see public reviews.
You can see lists in which Goodreads users have put it. You can see genres containing it. You can see other recommended reads similar to it.
There is an author profile (and the helpful note that there are other authors listed with the same name).
The reviews often contain pictures…in this case, there was a lot of parody stuff.
There are videos from readers (“It completely took over my life.”) with comments on them.
There are sections for trivia and quotations.
You can share the book through a number of social media.
Certainly, if you wanted to see if you’d like the book, and you wanted to discuss it, it’s covered here.
Weirdly, I”m not seeing an actual numeric average of the reviews, although I can see that on Amazon. It looks like about 4.5 stars on a scale of 1 to 5. There are 22, 747 reviews, and I’m told that 110,324 members have it (I can see a list of members by clicking).
The first thing I see are the Book Extras: that’s where you can get a wiki type listing of details. Those sections include
- Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis
- Characters (35 of them listed)
- Popular Covers
- Settings & Locations
- Organizations (in the book)
- First sentence
- Table of Contents
- Themes & Symbolism
- Series & Lists
- Authors & Contributors
- First Edition
- Notes for Parents
- Popular Tags
- Links to Supplemental Material
- Movie Connections
- More Books Like This
- Books Influenced by This Book
- Books That Cite This Book
- Amazon Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought
There are also sections which are hidden by default: Errata; Books with Additional Background Information; and Books That Influenced This Book. I’m not quite sure why those are hidden. There is a “hide spoilers” checkbox which is selected by default (I really appreciate that!), but unchecking it didn’t make them show up.
In addition to the Book Extras tab, there are tabs for Readers & Reviews, Discussions, and Editions (Shelfari lists 258 of those).
You can buy the book, but it links just to Amazon or Abebooks (which is part of the Amazon family) for collectible editions.
You can share the book on social media.
There is a sidebar where members can ask questions, and get answers (by people voting yes or no).
Recent editors are shown.
Members, Group, and Lists with this book are linked.
You can read the first chapter for free.
This page has more of the geeky kind of detail about the book I find interesting than the Goodreads page. I’d say that Goodreads feels more modern and more shallow (outside of reviews), and Shelfari feels more scholarly, in a pop culture sort of way.
It’s rated 4.43. There are 2,358 reviews, and 29,350 members with the book.
Outside of the cover image, there are no images beyond icons on this page.
I see a ranking of 25 for popularity, but I’m not quite clear what that means. When I clicked on it, it said
“Popularity is position on a rank-ordered list of the number of copies of a works cataloged during a given period.”
It looks like it is the ranking out of the top 100,000. In 2008, The Hunger Games was #1,785: in 2012, it was #2.
- LibraryThing Recommendations
- Member Recommendations
- Will you like it? (I haven’t rated enough books to get that to work yet)
- Member Reviews (in a number of languages…you can narrow by language, which is nice)
- Published Reviews
- Other authors (these are contributors: translators, illustrators)
- Work-to-work relationships (contained in, parodied in, reference guides/companions
- Common Knowledge
Common Knowledge is like the Book Extras at Shelfari. The sections include
- Series (with order)
- Canonical (official) title
- Original title
- Alternative titles
- Original publication date
- People/characters (30 of these)
- Important places
- Important events
- Related movies
- Awards and honors
- First words
- Last words (with a spoiler screen…click to reveal)
- Disambiguation notice
- Publisher’s editors
- Blurbers (including Stephen King)
- Publisher series
Then there are sections for
- LibraryThing members’ descriptions (amusingly, this includes haiku summaries)
- Book descriptions (including Amazon’s)
- Library descriptions
In the sidebar, there are
- Quicklinks (including purchasing and getting it at the library through WorldCat)
- Current Discussion
- Popular covers (159 listed)
- Ratings (broken down with numbers for each number of stars)
- LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alumn (it’s a program where you can get pre-publication copies)
- Is this you? (an author program)
There aren’t as many reviews here, and I would describe the feel of this page as funky. The “Common Knowledge” seems more fun than the Book Extras, but hasn’t been completed as much (a lot of things were blank).
Next, let’s just compare a couple of stats on a
I went with one that’s a perennial bestseller. I’m curious as to whether it being an older, public domain titles is going to change how the different sites treat it.
- Goodreads: Rating: 4.23; 942,848 ratings; 27,542 reviews (about 24% the number as The Hunger Games)
- Shelfari: Rating: roughly 4.2; 4,818 reviews (about 21%)
- LibraryThing: Rating: 4.46; 762 reviews (about 32%)
Based on that, LibraryThing seems to be the friendliest to classics.
The Somewhat Obscure
- Goodreads: Rating: 3.5; 20 ratings; 3 reviews
- Shelfari: no reviews or ratings, but the book is listed and eight members have it
- LibraryThing: no reviews, but two ratings (averaging three stars): 38 members have it
Goodreads was the winner there.
Well, that’s actually probably enough for this post! If people are interested, I’ll do another one of these looking at features besides just the book listings.
Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.