Goodreads Ratings

Should Goodreads Be Dominated By Five Star Ratings?

Goodreads Ratings

Last week, in celebration of the site reaching 50 million reviews, Goodreads shared an infographic loaded with statistics. Included in the graphic was a chart that breaks down how Goodreads members rate books, with 37% rating five star, 34% four star, 21% three star, 6% two star and 2% one star, meaning that readers choose the five star option most often.

Though the percentages for four and five star ratings are fairly close, my first thought was how different Goodreads seems from my perspective, where five star ratings pop up fairly rarely in my friends feed and many books seem to average just below a four. Even my own ratings, which I often feel skew too high, averaged 3.8 last year. Is the overall Goodreads experience that much different?

In a way it makes sense that one and two star ratings would be so low, since readers may give up on books that would otherwise fall into those low rating categories and many choose not to rate books they don’t finish. Nailing down the source of all the fives is a little trickier, but I think it comes down to quantity. The infographic notes that the most reviewed book on Goodreads is The Hunger Games, with over four million ratings and over two million of them are five stars. For comparison, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life has just over 29,000 reviews.

This all tends to highlight some of the problems I’ve had with the site’s ratings. While I see how they can be useful for a quick opinion, I’ve found that a book’s overall rating is not usually very helpful in deciding whether or not I want to read something. For that, I have to look to my friends.

Do you think we should see more of a normal curve when it comes to the overall reviews on Goodreads, with three being the most common? What do you think this means about how dependable Goodreads ratings are? 

 

  • I really think the ratings wouldn’t skew so high if GR had 1/2 stars in there. Especially right around the 3. So, so many times I’ve felt like a book was in between their descriptions for 3 and 4, but I rounded up because the GR wording for 3 was harsher than I actually felt, if that makes sense.

    • I agree on the need for 1/2 stars and, like you, I’ve been using the 3.5 stars rating a lot this year b/c I realized I was using too big a range for my 4 last year. But, I usually round down…mainly b/c if I give a book 4.5 stars, I don’t want it to count as 5 stars (b/c there was a reason I didn’t just give it that last half star).

    • I think you’re definitely right about GR needing 1/2 stars. Their refusal to add them is one of the strangest things about the running of the site for me.

  • I think it would be more normal to be closer to a 4 stars rating: Goodreads members are generally bookish folks, and most bookish folks “really like” most books, which is (under the GR rating scheme) a 4 Star rating. That said, my average rating has risen from a 3.21 to a 3.32 over the past few years, with 3 Stars being my most awarded rating.
    I also think there are many people on the site who only rate books they like, so it might be skewed upwards if that is true.
    ~Litha Nelle

    • I think 4 would be the better “average”, too. 1’s and 2’s are easy to dismiss because of DNF’s, so you would think that most books would fall somewhere in the 3-5 range.

  • Another factor is that, as readers, we select books we like. Yes, I have some lower ratings on my shelves, but if I don’t like an author, I move on to an author I do like, so most of my ratings are going to be 4 or 5 stars.

    • There’s definitely something to that, particularly for people who tend to read series or many books from the same author. I know that no matter how hard I try to feel out what I think I’ll like, though, I do still run into books that disappoint me.

  • Charlie (The Worm Hole)

    I’m inclined to agree with Monika. I’ve read so many reviews on the site that state ‘I’d rate this more [half star]’ and having half stars really does help, more so I think than saying the equivalent, something out of ten. I’m actually surprised the 5 stars don’t count for a bigger percentage.

    • Half stars would clarify so much, especially because people seem to be rounding up or down in different ways that skew the ratings.

  • I agree with Monica that the 1/2 stars are needed because I tend to round up when I review on Goodreads. What I find especially disturbing is how some will mark a book to read in the future but somehow, the books gets a 1-star rating when it’s marked to read. This certainly skews the results, not to mention those books marked to read but have been DNF’d. I’ve had a tendency to write a review on GR and not mark a rating as an oversight, which is do-able. I think GR’s calculation is pretty unreliable in “true” ratings, and I don’t really trust the star ratings on GR’s, either.

    • Ohhh, you bring up a good point I hadn’t thought of, too! There are a ton of people who give books 5 star ratings as soon as they see an anticipated title is coming up from a favorite author.

    • On a related note, I’ve also seen people add a forthcoming book and 5-star it immediately, even though there’s no possible way they could have already read it even in ARC form. So confusing!

      • Amanda

        I hate those people Shaina! Or 1 star for the same reason. Makes me slightly crazy.

  • I’m doing my part for the 3 star rating! That’s what I give most books.

  • This is so interesting. I find personally, because I am too nice, that I have a problem giving books a single star. But I have plenty of three stars and several two stars (when I bothered to stick with those to the end).

    I think I’m going to have to go look around my own Goodreads account for a bit and see how I average!

  • Oooh – GR ratings…one of my favorite discussion topics!!

    I wonder if the high % of 5 stars has something to do with behavior for the general population of Goodreads users being a little different than many of ours. I imagine bloggers and really serious readers are diligent about tracking every book they read (good or bad) on GR. But, could less serious readers end up just going to GR when they’re super excited about a book? And not making an effort to track books they’re less excited about or didn’t like?

    • I would totally buy this hypothesis! I don’t rate books when I finish them on Audible, but I’ve felt inclined to rate them when I think they were excellent (i.e., worthy of five stars), so I could completely see a more casual GR user doing the same with physical/e-books.

  • I’ve been thinking about this since I saw that infographic. I think the 5-star ratings are probably a combination of things. I have some Goodreads friends who only post about books they really love. All of their ratings are 5-star. A lot of my ratings are 5-stars because we don’t have a 4.5-star option, and because I’m pretty good at picking out books for myself. I rarely dislike the books I choose to read. (School books are a whole different story. I don’t always like the ones I’m forced to read.)

    • Agreed with the “good at picking books for myself” point. I don’t think I shy away from rating something 2 or 3 stars, but I tend to pick 4- and 5-star books!

  • Katherine Koba

    Oooh, fascinating! I think it’s a lot of things.

    1. GR people just tend to like books.
    2. People will often DNF a book they don’t like, or finish it but not bother tracking it.
    3. People have different standards for what any given star rating is. Yes, GR gives suggestions when you mouse over, but people can ignore them. Different sites have different suggestions and someone on GR may be used to another site’s system. Or they just have their own system.
    4. People inflate what they would honestly think is just an “okay” book to a 5-star if they know the author, or if they get a free ARC/copy for review.
    5. People are good at knowing what they like.

    My favorite thing to do with GR ratings is to see what the highest-ranked rating says about the book. You can mindlessly click the stars all you like, but when the hivemind (and GR’s secret sauce) have decided that this or that criticism is the most appropriate…then I think you see something like reality. I’ve done this with books I’ve loved (A Tale for the Time Being) and hated (The Martian; The Fault in Our Stars) and all three times the highest-ranked reviews frankly addressed what I think are the biggest issue with the book.

    • So right about the high-ranked reviews! It was a total revelation when I realized you could sort the reviews by different filters.

  • This is one of the reasons I’ve abandoned goodreads. I’d rather track and rate books via spreadsheet. I still use is to keep up with a few friends, but that’s about it. It’s been freeing for me.

    • There’s so much more about GR that I dislike than what I like. My spreadsheet is much more useful than anything on GR, but I haven’t found a website to replace the social aspect of it – as soon as I do, I’m out!

  • I skew higher than I think I should too (average of 3.89), but I agree with a lot of people below that, as more serious readers, we get really good at picking out books that we later do indeed enjoy. I definitely don’t shy away from giving books low ratings—I’ve had a good number of 2- and 3-star ratings since I started using Goodreads in 2012—but, for the most part, I enjoy the books I read. When I don’t, I will rate them as such or abandon them entirely. I do like your question of whether we should rate DNF books… on the one hand, it seems unfair to the book since I didn’t give it a fair shake, but on the other, it might be helpful to other people trying to decide if they’d read it. I guess I compromise by sticking it on an “abandoned for now” or “abandoned for good” shelf in the hopes that my friends notice that.

    • It would actually be really useful if GR’s rating scale had somehow included DNF’s, like if 1’s were recognized as books that were not finished. Without that, it makes it so difficult to figure out how people are using those lower ratings.

  • Rachel Rooney

    What a fun article! I factor in both the overall GR rating and friend feedback when deciding whether to read a book.

  • Rebecca Foster

    Very interesting question! I have some GR friends who seem to rate pretty much everything 5 stars as a matter of course, like anything they choose to read is automatically amazing. Needless to say, I take those ratings with a grain of salt. I think a lot of YA and genre fiction readers are extremely enthusiastic with their 5 stars. (There I go being snobby.) My 5-star ratings are very rare, only about 5% of what I read; my average rating is 3.34, and that’s even with rounding up for half-stars.

    The other day I read a Book Riot article by someone who culls her TBR by removing anything with an average GR rating below 3.5. I wouldn’t do that because I think that risks cutting some real gems that have been misunderstood (for me that’s books like Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun and All Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz).

    • Amanda

      That kind of culling would be terrible!

    • Woah, that culling is brutal! I’m with you – I didn’t realize until recently, but some of my favorite books have pretty low overall scores, too.

  • Amanda

    Ooh now I want to know what my average is. I feel like I’m probably high. And I agree x1000 give half stars! It would make such a difference.

    • I use my spreadsheet to figure out the average, but you can get a little bit of an idea from GR: if you click on “Stats” under your bookshelves and then click on “Details” for a particular year, you can see how many books you gave each rating.

  • I’m very selective when I choose what to read so my goodreads ratings are on the high side. Also I won’t finish a book I’m not liking and tend not to rate these unless I get more than 40% through. I would love half stars, I use them a lot on Librarything.

    • It seems like almost every other site with the option to rate a book has half stars…it’s just so strange to me that Goodreads refuses.

  • Like you, I rarely give a book five stars on Goodreads; if I don’t think a book is going to hold up as one of my all-time favorites, it’s probably not getting five stars. And as far as recommendation tools go, I put star ratings on an even lower level than Goodreads community reviews; if I don’t know the tastes of a reviewer/rater and the criteria they use — especially in such an arbitrary measurement as star ratings — I don’t have much use for their rating. Reviews and ratings of friends are always the first thing I look for.

    • That’s a great point about star ratings being less important than reviews – they’re definitely something I consider last if I’m trying to decide whether or not to read.

  • I really try to use the GR rating the way I interpret it on the site. 3 stars means I liked it (to me anything 3 stars and above is a favorable rating), 4 stars means I really liked it, and 5 stars means it was amazing. My average rating on GR is 3.54 which I think is a pretty good reflection of my opinions on the books I’ve read. I read over 100 books a year and only 5-10% rate 5 stars. I reserve that for the books that were amazing and there was nothing that I would want to change with them. I round down when giving 1/2 stars (because I don’t want a 4 1/2 star book to be rounded to a 5), but I do wish that it was possible to give 1/2 stars.

    • I tend to round up on half stars, but I think you’re right with your reasoning for rounding down – it’s probably something I should be doing (and it would likely get my average around where I think it should be).

  • Christy

    I have a 3.4 average rating on GR. I have sometimes paid attention to the overall GR rating for a particular book, but for things like, I want to start with an author but am not sure where to start, so I may look at the highest rated book first. I do like filtering the reviews by stars, especially to find the lower raters for books I had issues with – I like to see if others had the same issues as I did.

    • I hadn’t thought of it, but that’s exactly the same reason I do use the overall average (comparing books from a single author). And the star filter is SUPER helpful!

  • Oh gosh, yeah, I don’t think I ever look at a GR rating average to decide whether to read a book. If my GR friends have read it and given it reviews or star ratings, I’m (like you) much more likely to pay attention to that. But since I figure the arc of GR ratings bends towards a statistical average for everything (of people who loved, hated, and mehed the book), those star ratings aren’t much use to me.

    • It’s definitely much easier when friends have read something – I have a hard time trying to parse out what reviews to consider when my friends haven’t.

  • Kristen C.

    I don’t ever use the GR rating as an indicator. It always shows the most recent ratings at the top, which swing from 1-star “THIS IS THE WORST BOOK EVER” to 5-star “HOW DID I LIVE BEFORE I READ THIS”. I really just use it to keep track of my reading, and the stars are a reminder for future me as to how much i liked a book when the inevitable “Hey Kristen, what should I read?” question comes around from my non-voracious reading people. I’m SO much more intrigued by that tiny tidbit of data (A Little Life only having 29,000 reviews, The Hunger Games having FOUR MILLION). I also kinda want to go back and make sure all of my ratings are reflective of actual feelings….but that’s way too much effort.

    • Totally agree with you on the stars just being a quick way of reminding myself how much I liked a book – actually, the major way I really use them is sorting through my own ratings and find the books I liked best.

  • I think the GoodReads problem is just part of an overall problem with ratings online in general. I try to not let bad GoodReads review averages dissuade me from reading things that I’m interested in, but I need to get better about not letting high averages fool me into thinking a book is better than it is. Another problem is that you never know what someone’s personal scale is – or how they approach star ratings. I rate things based on how good they are *for their genre* – which skews my reviews higher. For example – I rated Rob Lowe’s memoirs 4 stars each because I think they are great …. for their genre (celebrity memoirs). Do I think they are as great as other books I’ve given 4 stars to? Probably not. Anyway – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – for opinions that I can trust, I look to my friends in the book blogging community! :)

    • Ohhhh, you’re so right about rating different genres on their own scale – I definitely do that and rarely think about it!

  • Last year, my GR rating was something like 3.3, and I was surprised because I thought my reading overall last year was better than just average (what is what a 3 means on a scale from 1 to 5). So this year, I started being more generous with my 5-star ratings, only to be unhappy because I know some of them don’t deserve that rating if I compare them to my absolute favorite books. So I’ve decided to just ignore ratings from now on. Aside from not wanting to agonize over how to rate a book, when I think about it, I have never read a book that doesn’t interest me only because a gazillion people rave about it, and I don’t see myself dismissing a book that has caught my attention only because other readers dislike it.

    • I’ve definitely considered going the no star rating route (more than once!). I do like being able to look back at what I rated things quickly and sort books that way, but sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

  • I have a friend who only rates 5 star books and just doesn’t catalog the rest. To which I’m like….what? Why? But I definitely throw down 4 stars more often than anything. And I guess it’s kind of meaningless. But in my head it’s like ok, 5 stars is an all time favorite book. 4 is a really good book that I’ll recommend to people. 3 is a book. 2 is a bummer. 1 I never do, bc I have excellent taste and don’t read shitty books. SO.

  • Interesting to see this all broken down. I’m not too surprised actually! I’ve never put much trust in starred ratings. What’s more interesting to me is the actual reviews that are written down (or linked).

  • This is an interesting statistic. I am relatively generous, and I don’t rate many books 5 stars. Nor do the people in my circle. But then they are mostly book reviewers. I feel I put more thought into the star rating system once I started reviewing books on a public forum. In my pre-blogging days, I rarely used Goodreads, and even then, only rated books like Harry Potter, so I feel that this is what is reflected in ratings.

    Nonetheless, ratings don’t say much to me; the review is where the gold lies.

  • I think this makes complete sense. If we picked books at random, I’d expect to see a normal distribution, but I like to think I know what I’ll like well enough that I’ll do better than picking books at random! I could artificially scale down my ratings to achieve a normal distribution centered on 3 and I’ve considered it, because I don’t feel as though there’s enough of a distinction now between books I loved (which get 5 stars) and books that will be my favorites forever. However, I always come to the conclusion that to do that would be to do good books a great disservice, given how particular star ratings are defined on my blog and on goodreads.

  • Vasilly

    I don’t really bother with Goodreads rating unless it’s my fellow bloggers doing the rating. I usually read the reviews since there’s often a common complaint among them. I rarely rate a book with five stars unless it’s so fantastic that I’m willing to buy it. Most book I read end up with three stars.

  • Meaghan Walsh Gerard

    My guess is (and this is a guess), is that the general populous (not other book bloggers and reviewers) only posts a rating when they REALLY liked it or REALLY hated it. Think of it as Yelp for books. You are probably only going on there and writing a review if the service and food was amazing and out of the world, or if you have a bone to pick with the restaurant.

  • Late to the party on this one…I definitely take into consideration how many reviews a book has had in relation to their overall “star rating”. So many books I have loved and given 5 stars to have an average of 3, which troubles me but I don’t really care because I loved it. I do like GR to catalog my books (I also have a paper journal) and I’ve also made some friends who are not bloggers but avid readers and love their reviews so much. It’s the only place we connect, so it’s going to stay until we can all merge onto something else. And some of the 1 and 2 star reviews are so fun to read!

  • I pay attention to the GR stars from people I know and I also ignore pre-pub star ratings completely. Having said that, if yo consider that the majority of GR members are not book bloggers but ‘average’ readers than the 5 star reviews make sense. They could be for a picture book your child loved or any kind of reading that we don’t do. That sounds elitist, I know, but my only point is I am fortunate to read so much more now and be exposed to a higher caliber of writing that if I went back and looked at my pre-blogging 5 stars? I’d laugh.

  • I know a lot of reviewers/bloggers and readers only rate the books they liked (and in the indie world, that usually means 4 and 5 stars only – but that’s a topic for another day UGH). I think this leads to inflated ratings, which is showing on that infographic you shared, Lately, a lot of the books I’ve picked up have been 3-stars which means I liked but it didn’t rock my world. I looked at my rating breakdown and it looks like a bell curve, which is what I think it should be. I used to be a much more liberal rater and everything was AMAZING but after reading so many books, my tastes have become more refined. Great post!

  • Charla

    I am “friends” on someone Goodreads with someone who only gives 5 star ratings! It drives me crazy and as a result I ignore her reviews and ratings. Usually I can get more useful information from reading reviews rather than paying too much attention to the stars.

  • I like reading the comments or reviews on Goodreads but take the stars with a grain of salt. I wish too they had 1/2 stars. I probably skewer mine a bit too high but rarely ever give 5s.

  • Brendan

    My average rate is about 3 1/2. Remove the obscure poetry books I check out from the library, and it’s probably close to 4, like yours. I reserve 5 for my all-time favorites. Though a 1 is as rare, if not more so.