Gamifying Reading: How Book-tracking Apps Kill Our Thirst for Books

By Carla Di Maggio

Everyone who is book obsessed can relate to that satisfying feeling when you finish a book. With book-tracking apps like Goodreads having exploded in popularity over the last decade, we can now quantify that joy of cataloguing, ranking and reviewing every just-finished book. But is this the same joy of reading we’ve known all our lives, or something else entirely?

Book-tracking platforms

The popularity of book-tracking platforms is difficult to overstate. For instance, in Goodreads’ 2022 Reading Challenge, over five million users pledged to read an average of 48 books this year. Since starting the challenge in 2005, Goodreads has grown exponentially as the leading book-tracking platform, commonly now referred to as Facebook for book lovers. After Amazon gained control of Goodreads in 2013, the data uploaded onto the site has grown at an incredible rate, making its recommendation system incredibly sophisticated, and streamlining its users’ ability to add the newest and most exciting new releases to their custom bookshelves and lists. Similar to Spotify’s Wrapped, users even receive a neat little package by Christmas with all the pages and words they have read throughout the year.

With book-tracking apps running rampant with new and improved features—more buttons to press, more stats to track—it would seem that readers have never had more fun and versatile ways to engage with their favourite pastime. But is reading with the companionship of such sites actually about the enjoyment gained from reading books themselves, or sharing in a like-minded community? Or does ‘quantifying, dissecting and broadcasting our most-loved hobbies sucks the joy out of them?’

I would argue that gathering and quantifying reading data in this way likens reading to gaming, distracting us from the joys of curling up with a perfect five-star book. Instead, reading is becoming more about quantifying our self-worth using the reading statistics we’ve accumulated throughout the year. It is rare for us, now, to feel that putting a book down due to a lack of enjoyment is a valid response—out of guilt, we instead power on to ensure we can add the book to our completed list, and tick off another milestone towards our year-end reading goal.

Readers generally join sites such as Goodreads for a sense of community, a place where they can revel together in their shared hobby. But these sites aren’t the only option for booklovers. Perhaps the best book communities in this digital age are those communities that have sprouted on popular social media sites (e.g. BookTok, Booktube, Bookstagram, Book Twitter, etc.). Rather than focusing on the numbers accumulated through reading books, these communities foster passionate conversations with bookworms of differing opinions. But they are still intimately entangled with book-tracking apps such as Goodreads, regularly encouraging the use of these gamified platforms.

Book-tracking influencers

‘Reacting to my [insert year here] reading stats’ is not an uncommon title on Booktube, encouraging audiences to get onto these apps and ‘react’ to their own statistics. Jack Edwards, a popular Booktuber, uses these trends to evaluate his own reading habits through tracking apps on his second channel, Jack in the Books. Sitting at number eight in his most popular videos is one entitled, ‘reacting to my 2021 reading stats’, in which he makes his way through the many tracking categories (total books read, the most common moods and pace of books, graph of the genres he encountered, etc.), commenting on what he found interesting and aligning the statistics with his most loved books of 2021.

This video sits at 257 thousand views and 18 thousand likes, and although Edwards creates a space for his community to interact positively about their favourite books of 2021, many comments discuss how he gained all these stats from The StoryGraph and how excited they are to use it.

For instance, Tess comments:

‘The ‘stats’ feature is how I spend most of my time on Storygraph, I’m so fascinated by it’.

And Lucy adds:

‘The moods on my StoryGraph pie chart are starting to look more like personality traits than common book moods. The three biggest sections are dark, tense and emotional, and the smallest 3 were hopeful, lighthearted and relaxing🤦🏻‍♀️’.

A channel like Jack’s facilitates discussion with millennials and gen Zs, an audience that grew up with the development of new gaming consoles and standardised testing. Compiling statistics that track our real-world actions intrigues us on a developmental level. People want to see how they have developed over the years—the only issue being that if we have regressed, motivation plummets. It is so rarely considered that changes in life (such as an increase in work hours) that don’t allow us as much time to dedicate to hobbies contribute to this decline.

Furthermore, tracking reading progress towards a goal puts pressure on the act of continuously reading book after book—not allowing readers to take breaks according to their needs. Pushing through ‘reading slumps’ is not always the answer; rather, taking a break can allow readers to find a comfortable pace and relax into the books they desire to read. Apps such as Goodreads and The StoryGraph discourage a natural flow of reading for enjoyment by constantly letting users know how far ahead, or behind, they are in terms of their reading goal.

It is very human to find personal statistics fascinating; however, due to the high standards that we set for ourselves, when these statistics are less than ideal, they tend to demotivate us. We should read for the sake of reading: to escape, to learn, to grow.

Carla Di Maggio is the current website editor and book reviews editor for Grattan Street Press, and you can find more of their articles over at Marketing Mag. If they’re not tucked away reading in one corner, they’re in the other crocheting.

Featured Image: Damaged library book. Title = “NERDS 2: M is for Mama’s Boy”. Image by Enokson, image licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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