“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”- Benjamin Franklin
I’ve been a member of Goodreads since 2007. I’ve always been a big supporter of Goodreads because it was a way for me to interact with fellow bibliophiles and discuss books, much like a book club. It was also a way for me to keep track of books I’ve read, and my thoughts on them. Goodreads was one of my main sources to post my opinions on book, or I guess you could say my “reviews”. Prior to Goodreads, I would review on Amazon, which I’ve been doing since 2002, and then I opened my blog here in 2008. I have read over 2,000 books based on my “read” shelf on Goodreads.
In recent years I’ve noticed a big change on Goodreads. There has been a lot more of interaction and authors appearing on Goodreads. Prior to 2011, there didn’t seem to be so much interaction, but I noticed with the rise of self publishing, which exploded in 2011, more readers have used Goodreads to keep track of their books and created personal shelves for their books. Goodreads has 3 automatic shelves- “Read”, “To Be Read” and "Currently Reading”. Goodreads gives the option to create a personal shelf, which I have done.
Some of my shelves are- “DNF” (for do not finish)
“Gag worthy book” (for a book that made me squirm or while I read gave me a not so nice feeling, basically meaning I really disliked it)
“I want to have babies with it” (I loved this book so much that I want to procreate with it)
“P2P fan fiction” (I created this shelf to point out pulled to publish fan fiction since Fifty Shades of Grey was published. I wanted to be warned which books are P2P fan fiction and not be tricked into reading them).
These shelves were created for my sole use, but also those who follow me who research a book are aware of how I feel, and if they so choose can start what should be a respectful discussion about a book, even a book that is P2P fan fiction. For the most part the discussions were respectful and enjoyable. But I started noticing that when someone commented on a person’s review, shelving or why they gave whatever number of stars to a book, it would get dicey and people would start getting defensive and their arguments would become angry and name calling would be used. (Especially if an author decided to leave a comment on a person’s review, asking why they stated their opinion the way they did or gave the amount of stars the way they did.)
Goodreads has stated that their site is for the readers and not for the authors, although in recent years, Goodreads has invited more author interaction with advertising, sponsoring author Q&A’s and book giveaways. Back in May at Book Expo America I attended the Goodreads panel: Advanced Tips For Helping Readers Discover Your Books was given by Patrick Brown, the Director of Author Promotion at Goodreads. Patrick stressed that, “authors, you need to understand that Goodreads is for readers, no matter what a book a reader reads. Patrick also stressed that Goodreads IS FOR READERS, period. The reader will always come first. Reader integrity is important for Goodreads. The reader is the end all and be all for Goodreads.”
Well, it appears since that panel, things have changed at Goodreads. This change has come as a big shock because of what was announced this past Friday in the Goodreads Feedback Discussion- Announcements- Important Note Regarding Reviews. Goodreads has decided without any warning (or give time for a reader to fix their reviews and shelf names) to delete reviews or shelves. Any reviews or shelves “focused on author behavior” will be deleted. After this announcement was made, Goodreads did a mass deletion of reviews and shelves and then emailed those readers with those reviews and shelves after they deleted it. This happened to me on Friday afternoon. Over 40 of my reviews were deleted without warning. The reason stated was “In the past, if a review was predominantly about author behavior and not the book, we would remove it from the community book page. Due to some recent changes to our moderation policy, reviews of this nature will now be deleted entirely from the site.”
I admit that if I saw an author behaving badly I would mention in the review section with links and screenshots. Perhaps that was wrong of me, but Goodreads also ended up deleting my “reviews” of any books I called out for being pulled to published fan fiction. I would state the origins of the book, basically the former fan fiction title and the person who wrote it under their former fan fiction name. Stating the origins of a former fan fiction is about the behavior of the author? How is that so? Stating the origins of a book, such as Fifty Shades of Grey is something I feel should be acknowledged, because again I don’t want to fall into the trap of buying a book that was is a P2P fan fiction, reworked or what have you to make a published book. If others read my mention or my shelving of P2P fan fiction on Goodreads, so what? How is this damaging the writer’s reputation or how is it being abusive by calling out the origins?
I can understand Goodreads wanting to crack down on some reviews that the sole purpose is to ridicule the author personally or even get rid some shelves names that are in poor taste. Perhaps If Goodreads didn’t allowing personal shelving in the first place, this wouldn’t have gotten out of control. But how can Goodreads without any warning or allow a specific time period for those readers to fix their shelves’ names and reviews just delete? That’s what has most Goodreads users in an uproar. The second shock is the sudden censoring of shelf names and reviews.
If Goodreads censors this way, what’s stopping them from censoring all reviews based on their wording even if it’s just about the book and nothing personal about the author? Will they no longer allow negative reviews or 1 or 2 star reviews? Only 3 stars and up are allowed? No more GIFS, no more discussions, no more sharing of ideas and free speech? Anything negative will not be allowed, and those who are negative will be barred from Goodreads for life?
This is the message I saw after I clicked on one of my KT Grant books that had 1 star, and then another that had 2 stars. This message doesn’t come up for any reviews that are 3 stars and above. Why, even as an author should I have a right to flag a review even though it’s 1 or 2 stars? Why aren’t 3-5 stars held to the same standard as 1-2 star reviews? Authors shouldn’t be reading their reviews or care for a name of a shelf on Goodreads, right? So if Goodreads is for readers, why would Goodreads allow authors this action?
I’m a strong believer that reviews should be about the book and not the person writing it. But in this day of age of social media, those rules have changed. If an author behaves badly or has an opinion of a set of ideas that a reader doesn’t agree with, that will give the reader an opinion on whether they choose to read a book in an unbiased manner. Orson Scott Card of the very popular Enders Game is extremely homophobic, which has been documented. Based on knowing this personal information, don’t I have the right as a consumer aka a reader to decide not to read his work and even state it as so on a site like Goodreads? Or what about a well known book titled, Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. Someone recently posted a two sentence statement on Goodreads that’s in violation of Goodreads’ Terms of Service:
Based on this “review” and the review calling the author- Adolf Hitler a “dick” Goodreads should delete it, right? The same rules should apply for all books on Goodreads regarding authors, even if it’s Adolf Hitler or Orson Scott Card because Goodreads is for reviewing the work and not the artist writing it. Right?
I’m saddened to see what Goodreads is doing and the current environment there. I wish they had a bit more tact in the way they are trying to control things. As a reader, reviewer and author this depresses me. I can’t see anything good coming from this and I can bet you more new rules will take place. It now comes down to how the reading community at Goodreads handles these changes and if they accept them.
But no one is making a person use Goodreads, just as no one forces an author to read their reviews or use Goodreads. That's something to keep in mind.
I think it's become pretty obvious that GR under Amazon's authority is more interested in becoming a site for the industry than the people who actually buy or even write books. The stark contrast between blindly deleting reviews with no warning and hand holding authors in the most condescending way possible is very striking and speaks volumes to me. I don't want to give a site my time and energy if it has that attitude towards the people that made it what it is.