Reflections on the Goodreads Bullies Policy Change

I have been a loyal user of Goodreads for close to six years and have posted over 1300 reviews.  I've met many people both bibliographically and personally.  It's been marvelous.

 

In the last year or so, a battle began between some newbie authors, mostly independent and self-published, and reviewers, that accused some Goodreads reviewers of bullying the authors. They defined bullying as giving one-star reviews, labeling shelves in what they considered a threatening manner, and making abusive comments about their books. This battle seemed to exist almost exclusively in the YA and Romance fields.  Aside from the rather bizarre definition of bullying, many GR long-time reviewers resent the influx of authors who are anxious to hawk their books and aren't interested in reviewing or discussing books. Those of us who reviewed in other genres barely noticed the flap.

 

I only ran across the war because of another blog I follow that pertains to publishing, ThePassiveVoice.  I began to see references in comments to Goodreads having become a "cesspool" and being unfriendly to authors, etc. This perception was so foreign to my experience that I started to do a little digging. That, and a Huffington Post article, led me to a site call Stop the Goodreads Bullies.  This site is populated by authors who have had their feelings hurt by one-star ratings or comments they didn't like. They had all made the mistake of responding to the ratings and reviews in a somewhat vengeful manner. They began to publish the personal phone numbers and home addresses of the reviewers, which resulted in personal threats to these people at home (something both sides claim) as well has ill-advised Twitter-feeds, etc., etc. The war escalated.  Behavior from both sides could only best be described as adolescent.  Many of the claims bordered on hysteria and some were later retracted.  One famous incident involved an author totally misunderstanding the purpose and meaning of a shelf label. A good summary of the incident is here.  The best here.  Salon also wrote about the incident. (Be sure to read the comments that provide follow-up.) Ironically, the author has achieved the holy grail for authors, i.e. received tons of publicity and lots of "likes" from supporters.

 

 To suggest that a review must only be about the book and not be concerned with an author is nonsense.  See this review of mine which is all about author behavior, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/408696.Lying_About_HitlerYes, some reviewers expressed their disdain for some authors in unfortunate ways. So what. In order to be offended you have to expose yourself to the offense. All this stalking nonsense occurred outside of GR so GR has no control over it at all. Removing personal shelves won't solve any problem other than to irritate members. The instance cited by everyone as a major causative event turns out to be a huge misunderstanding and the author who originally claimed offense (the rape remark) has apologized and completely backed off from her original concerns. GR (and I don't blame Amazon which has more liberal rules with regard to comments) has totally caved to a tiny group of adolescents at STGRB. The flagging already in place could have worked well if implemented judiciously..

 

Just last week the Goodreads folks (now owned by Amazon - I love Amazon BTW) went completely overboard in their reaction, saying they intend to remove shelves (on GR shelves are used by reviewers as tags; they are personal but visible to anyone) that reference authors.  They would also remove any review that was about author behavior.  Reviews were to be solely about books.

 

The response from many reviewers on Goodreads, judging from the comments, has been to jump ship, migrating to other sites like Booklikes and The Library Thing and the comments in the feedback site last time I looked were over 4000, 99% uniformly negative.  The response from GR has been silence and I suspect they figure they'll just let people get the ire out of their systems and then move on. Amazon is releasing a new Paperwhite reader with a built-in link to GR and perhaps that was part of the motivation for the attempt to silence those they feel are overly negative in their ratings/reviews with regard to authors.

 

There are so many other ways GR could have approached the problem but instead decided to go after the mosquito with the shotgun.  By their own admission, they deleted only 21 items/reviewers from some 20,000,000 members and 30,000 reviews that are posted daily. They already had a flagging procedure in place for removal of offending material, but they could have simply hidden the shelf-labels or limited them to friends, or even designed a list of approved tags for use.

 

My guess is that the kerfuffle will die down in a couple of weeks, GR will lose some of its more active members, but life will go on. I had never heard of Booklikes before (which has become so popular their site has been overwhelmed and is adding more servers), but it has some intriguing features so I may move over there.  Time will tell.