The conventional wisdom among "book people" these days goes something like this: "You can't trust Amazon for reviews. Too many wackos on there, too many people with bad taste and too many people who aren't serious readers. For a better sense of what real readers are reading, and to hear their opinions, which are much worthier than the opinions of those who post on Amazon, go to Goodreads."
All I can say is: Don't believe the hype.
There's a lot of buzz in the office, among the younger professionals, regarding how to harness Goodreads as a marketing tool. Frankly, I don't think that's a good idea and I've been discouraging it - but then I get lectured along the lines of "Agatho, you must be more open to social media, you must be willing to try something new, you must meet readers where they congregate." Yes, all right - I concede the point.
I really haven't spent much time on Goodreads, as I usually look to Amazon for a sense of what's resonating and why. Of course, reviews have to hit a critical mass on Amazon for me to parse public reaction, figuring out what worked and for whom, and what didn't work and why. Somehow I've come up with the number 50. Up to 35 or so reviews, authors can get friends/family/colleagues to stack the deck in their favor. When you hit 50 reviews, though, you can be sure there will be some 1- and 2- star reviews in there ... and I think there's an interesting phenomenon on Amazon, too: People who don't like a book seem much more willing to say something negative about when others have already done so.
I'll admit that I've sometimes scratched my head over Amazon reviews, marveling (not in a good way) at some of the things people have said. So, going over to Goodreads, I expect the level of discourse to be somewhat different. And it IS different, but not necessarily, I think, in a good way.
Here's what I'm thinking after spending a few hours on Goodreads. I'm going to generalize here, so please keep that in mind before you jump down my throat. I think the Goodreads community sees itself as the Kirkus of the Internet. As self-defined "serious readers," they seem to subscribe to belief that a book is bad until proven otherwise. So, yes, it seems that the overall ranking of a book on Goodreads tends to be lower than the overall ranking on Amazon. (I chose ten books at random, from different publishers and with varying degrees of success/public awareness, and this was true for all ten of them.)
There's another problem, too. You can't rate a book on Amazon without saying something about it, no matter how short. But Goodreads is filled with rankings and no accompanying explanations. Not good.
Of course, I am most interested in how my own company's books have fared on Goodreads. Overall, I don't think the quality of the reviews is any better than the quality of the reviews on Amazon. First off, I counted six reviews in which reviews said something completely wrong. Not misleading, not slightly off the mark, but downright wrong. And I don't mean subjectively wrong - I mean objectively, proveably wrong. One said she doesn't like books written in the present tense: The book she was reviewing is NOT written in present tense. One said that she prefers a first-person narrator, and the book would have been better if the lead character had told the story. The point of view in that particular book IS first-person. One of the reviews gave away some key plot twists (one would think that self-appointed "good readers" would know better), and another recounted plot "events" that do not happen in the book that is being reviewed.
I really believe, when all is said and done, when the reading public has spoken, that just about every worthy book published today will end up with a 3-star ranking. That's as it should be - It's impossible to publish a book everyone likes. (For example, I find the Harry Potters so incredibly tiresome and would have rejected the first book by page 50. Fortunately, I can't kick myself over this because I've never worked in that market and never saw the manuscript.) However - and I can speak only for myself and my own acquisitions and publishing philosophy - I'm not looking to publish books for the elite. You know what I mean: the books that get reviewed in the New York Times and talked up on NPR; the books that people like to buy, leave on their coffee tables, and then place on a shelf, unread, a few months hence. I'm looking for manuscripts that the "average person" will enjoy and recommend to friends - because I am looking for commercial success (i.e., a lot of books sold). So maybe the good folks who review for Goodreads are not my target audience.
What I *do* like about Goodreads is this: As far as I can tell, it hasn't yet been overrun by self-marketers, the way DorothyL has and, to a certain extent, the way Amazon has. (I'm sure many of you have heard about the "scandals" in which people promise to post a review on Amazon in exchange for monetary compensation.) But my assistant subscribes to some Yahoo groups in which the vanity-published are actively talking about ways to get their work known via Goodreads, so a flank attack may indeed be in the works...