Comparing Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing

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:

  • Profile
  • Books
  • Community

“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

  • Profile
  • Your Books
  • Add Books
  • Talk
  • Groups
  • Local
  • More
  • Zeitgeist

Next, let’s compare a few specific books. After that,I’ll give you more of my sense of the sites.

A Popular Besteller:

The Hunger Games

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

  • Description
  • Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis
  • Summary
  • Characters (35 of them listed)
  • Popular Covers
  • Quotes
  • Settings & Locations
  • Organizations (in the book)
  • First sentence
  • Table of Contents
  • Glossary
  • Themes & Symbolism
  • Series & Lists
  • Authors & Contributors
  • First Edition
  • Awards
  • Classification
  • Notes for Parents
  • Subjects
  • 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.

I see

  • Members
  • Tags
  • 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
  • Epigraph
  • Dedication
  • First words
  • Quotations
  • 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

  • References
  • 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)
  • Audible
  • LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alumn (it’s a program where you can get pre-publication copies)
  • Is this you? (an author program)
  • Advanced

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

Popular Classic

Pride and Prejudice

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

The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists

  • 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.

24 Responses to “Comparing Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing”

  1. Tom Semple Says:

    Thanks for the feature summary.

    I confess I don’t well understand the appeal of Goodreads, Shelfari, etc. I have explored both sites a number of times, adding and rating books, browsing recommendations, joining groups, etc. I’m trying! But so far, I have not found any of it to be of much value.

    I have plenty of To Be Read and Wish List books, both lists continue to grow despite my best efforts to filter and pare, so I don’t need more book recommendations, particularly if they just regurgitate my past reading patterns or suggest ‘popular’ titles. I often will read some reviews before making a purchase decision, but those on seem good enough for that and are more convenient to access. I don’t feel any need to organize lists of the books I’ve read or want to read and share these lists with other people. I rarely write book reviews (too time consuming for me). My admittedly limited experiences with book clubs have been mixed (I often wind up reading books that I really don’t enjoy as a cost of participation). I do find a certain amount of ‘discussion’ helpful in terms of appreciating and enjoying what it is that I’m reading, but a little of that goes a long way. And importing (or laboriously entering, one at a time) hundreds or thousands of books into virtual shelves and rating everything just seems insane to me!

    Of course that is ‘just me’, today.

    I will look forward to some comments from people who actually find the sites useful and can explain why they enjoy them. And I’m interested in how Amazon integrates these services in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be more likely to be reading a book than spending time reading about reading one.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      I can understand that. 🙂 There is a big push for a social nature to reading (I’ve been part of that push…not for me, but for Amazon’s benefit), but that’s not the way we used to think about reading. Oh, sure, there were book clubs and such, but I would say the number of readers who participated in those was a small percentage of the whole of serious readers.

      However, the New Millenial generation (and others) share…a lot. That’s a group that might find this particularly appealing. If you look at the chat inside The Hunger Games, as I’ve written about before, there is a lot of activity.

      Like you, I don’t really need guidance on more things to read. I do find some books in Entertainment Weekly, and sometimes see them mentioned in Flipboard, but I’ve got quite a TBR (To Be Read) queue already. 🙂

      I wanted these kinds of apps for two things: cataloging my own books, and adding to the “Book Extras” kind of thing. I’ve done that with A Princess of Mars, for example.

    • Cherylanne Says:

      Here’s the value I have found:

      1) I don’t feel the need to hang on to as many books — the virtual bookshelf gives me a great way to remember what I read, to rate and review it. So I cleared out a lot of books that were taking up shelf space because I guess I just didn’t want to forget how much I loved them. And in the case of Shelfari (my favorite, though the one not kept up as much) I can peruse the shelves just to scroll through all the books I’ve read, as if they were on actual shelves in my home.

      2) I wish I had a photographic memory, but I really don’t. Probably why I held onto books so long. So s year or so after finishing a book — depending on how unique it was or whatever — I can forget what it was about. What I loved about reading it. Or, in the case of long series’, I can forget which ones I’ve read already (that happened with No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and I ended up buying and starting the same one twice. Ugh! LOL!) But as soon as I finish a book, I log it in.

      3) Wishlists! I can read about books, get recommendations on these sites and add them to a “want to read” list that is with me any time I’m in a bookstore or at a book sale. 🙂

      So it’s just a great, handy tool for forgetful people like me 😉

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thank for writing, Cheryl!

        Shelfari is also my favorite..although, like you, I use something else (Goodreads) more.

        Yes, I think sites like this are useful. I used to remember everything I read, and that’s no longer true…although I generally remember if I’ve read it or not. 😉

  2. Dawid Says:

    Give it a try to BookLikes ( – blog platform designed for book lovers. Just something different 🙂

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Dawid!

      I typically don’t post comments where people link to their own things, but it does look interesting for my readers. I’ll take a look at it…thanks!

  3. jjhitt Says:

    The Platypus of Doom was one of the first titles on my watch list.
    Not sure how well it has aged, but ready to read it again.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jjhitt!

      I do have a paper copy. 🙂 I liked An East Wind Coming and Autumn Angels as well…

  4. Hostagal Says:

    I also don’t join in the ‘social aspect’ of these sites. I’ve only joined Shelfari, although I did go look at Goodreads when Amazon bought them. I reason I joined Shelfari was to be able to organize my books. I purchase the majority of my books through Amazon, so it is very simple to upload them into Shelfari. I then go through them and add the tags to each book. This way I can click on my ‘cookbooks’ or ‘historical romance’ or ‘reference’ tags, and only those books come up. I don’t believe there is a workable way to do that with the My Library/Manage My Kindle page at Amazon.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Hostagal!

      Sounds like your approach is similar to mine. 🙂 That import function is something that I hope Amazon adds to Goodreads…

    • rogerknights Says:

      “I reason I joined Shelfari was to be able to organize my books. I purchase the majority of my books through Amazon, so it is very simple to upload them into Shelfari. I then go through them and add the tags to each book. This way I can click on my ‘cookbooks’ or ‘historical romance’ or ‘reference’ tags, and only those books come up. I don’t believe there is a workable way to do that with the My Library/Manage My Kindle page at Amazon.”

      Amazon’s archive should store users’ e-books organized within users’ “collections.” That would make it more attractive to rely on their cloud and less necessary to keep everything on the Kindle, which slows down dramatically when it is even half-full. This is a major flaw. It ought to be fixed.

      Hmm…. Maybe this flaw is deliberate, because Amazon wants to encourage users to join Shelfari. (?)

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        I think if Amazon was encouraging people to join Shelfari, we’d know it. 🙂 It doesn’t even show up at the bottom of Amazon pages (where other sites they own, like, do). I think we’d be getting e-mails about it from time to time.

        The issue about Collections at

        or directly from the Kindle is that it would require a real redesign. Right now, the archives/Cloud are equally available to every compatible device (not all items work on all devices) on the account. Collections are device-specific (they can be imported from another device). If you and I were both on the same account, we could each have a To Be Read Collection with different things in it.

        For Collections to show at MYK, they would have to designate with which device they went, or, and I think this is what people would prefer, with which person they were connected (so I could have the same Collections on my Fire and my Paperwhite, for example).

        I only keep about ten Kindle store books on any of my devices at a time, but I don’t select the next book to read based on Collections.

        I think one of the easiest solutions would probably be to allow books to be sent to your Kindle from your Cloud/Archives from other Amazon owned sites. There could be a link to that book from Shelfari or Goodreads (eventually), so if you clicked on it there and chose to send it to a Kindle, it would go. I suppose they could even allow it from any site, provided you had to enter your credentials…that way, you could set things up however you wanted (maybe even in an Excel spreadsheet).

        Hm…that idea might be worth exploring more fully…thanks!

  5. rogerknights Says:

    Jason Merkoski, author of Burning the Page and erstwhile Kindle project manager, states in his book that the future of e-reading is social and that some forward-thinking e-retailer should acquire Goodreads. Perhaps that had an influence on Amazon’s acquisition.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      Maybe. 🙂 I finished Jason Merkoski’s book, and plan to write a review of it today. I’m not sure how much credence Amazon would his advice, though…I’ll explain why in the write up. There, that’s a tease for you. 😉

  6. Zebras Says:

    I tried Shelfari for a little while, too much work, when all I really want to do is read. I think you are right about the social aspect being a generational thing. Posting here, and occasionally on the Kindle Amazon Boards is more than enough social reading activity for me. I am considered a baby boomer, though born in the last three months of the last year of it.

  7. Morgan Says:

    I agree with Hostagal. I used to be on Goodreads and left it for Shelfari solely because i buy 100% of my books through Amazon.this way i can just import and be done.

    In response to Tom’s post: i use it so that i can keep a record of all the books I’ve bought, how i rated them etc. And so that i can get other book ideas. One thing I’ve come to enjoy on Shelfari is seeing all my reading statistics (amount of books, number in each genre, increase or decrease of books read from last year, etc)

  8. oldiesuz Says:

    Boy am I glad I am not the only one. I know I will sound like something of a misanthrope by writing this, but I absolutely detest “social networking” when it comes to reading. Harsh as this may sound, I have absolutely no interest in anyone else’s observations or opinions about any book I choose to read.

    There are two reasons for my feeling this way. The first is to me, reading is something I do that is just ‘for me’ – it transports me to another world or place for several hours each day and whatever emotions I feel while or after reading are mine and mine alone. (Very important I think in a world where we are bombarded by 24 hour everything telling us how to feel, what to do, how to act, what to watch, etc, etc).

    The second reason is – I would rather spend my limited free time reading a book rather than discussing one.

    Just wondering too if any of your readers have come across this issue: quite a few times, after downloading a book to my Kindle app on my Google Nexus, I find not only the book but a corrupted second file courtesy of Shelfari that is similar to the book and shares the same cover… a file that opens to a link to Shelfari 404 error page. Worst of all, the file will not delete. I have to uninstall my kindle app and reinstall it for the file to go away. Kindle Customer service was useless on this issue (which I find them to sadly be on many issues not involving refunds or standard operating procedure) and insisted I must have ‘signed up’ for a Shelfari account – something that I would never have done. I now sideload my ‘liberated’ books onto the nexus and have no issues.

    Anyway, sorry to go on and on but and don’t know if my long winded answer helps with your questions, but other than possibly searching for info on long out of print books or ‘voting’ to request a book be made into an ebook, I cannot imagine ever having a need for one of the websites.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, oldiesuz!

      Well, I do think reading a book is a very intimate connection with the author. However, for people for whom it is a social norm to discuss their sexual relations with their friends, I can see where this wouldn’t be much more private. 😉

  9. Chew&DigestBooks Says:

    I don’t really use the social aspects of any of the sites, but do enjoy seeing the reviews of other book bloggers that that I “know” listed first in Goodreads.

    I use shelfari to catalog everything that I own, goodreads to track what I have actually read and while I have paid for the higher membership of librarything, it’s just not attractive enough for me to use often. None of these are a social thing for moi, just straight info/cataloging.

  10. Kestin dahlqvist Says:

    I am a member of all three. What is good with goodreads that it lists swedish titles and even those that are not translated to english. What i do not like about goodreads is that they have a section that the members Can write stories about each other. But that can Lead to that members badmouthing members.
    I think librArything Wants to be highbrow.

  11. Maria Tzemanaki Says:

    I have used all three but Goodreads is the best for me. My to-read list has 1212 books and the number is going up. When I use the internet I have to sites on:facebook and goodreads.From the recommendations I have add plenty of books and it is a feature I adore. Along with the “Readers also enjoyed”. Anyway I have the books I want to read and the books I read beautifully organised and I can look for more books easily and that really counts for me. The reading challenge is also something I truly like. Now about the selfari I like the bookshelves where you add your books but other than that is holds no interest for me. Plus I have a kindle but I had no idea that Amazon owns Shelfari…..Or Goodreads……

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Maria!

      You sounds like quite the reader…just my kind of person. 🙂 Amazon is now interfacing more with Goodreads (we got that ability on the Fire and the Paperwhite recently, although I think they will improve the functionality).

  12. Hortensia Says:

    Reblogged this on Hortensia Journal and commented:
    A post worth to read.

  13. Amazon shutters Shelfari | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Comparing Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing […]

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