Let’s Talk About Goodreads

Posted September 25, 2013 by Stormy in Blogging / 30 Comments

Okay, everyone. Let’s talk about Goodreads. As upset as I am about some of the changes, I’m going to try and be really logical and rational about this. Instead of ranting about why I think the policy changes to Goodreads is a bad idea, I’m going to try to calmly present my point instead. But I may fail, so consider yourself forewarned that I am not a fan of the new Goodreads policy. I know other posts have been written on this subject already, but I still really want to discuss it a few days after the fact. And again, I am going to try to make this not another rant, because I’m not sure that really helps anything. I’m writing this partially to sort out my own thoughts on the matter.

Now, before I begin, let’s get something clear: I am aware the GoodReads is a free site/service that I and many others use willingly. I realize that I have agreed to their ToS, and that while I do believe this new policy is site-wide censorship, they do have every RIGHT to enforce this policy, and is not “censorship” in the legal definition. That being said, I have every right to dislike the new policy, to expound on why I dislike the new policy, and to stop posting my intellectual property on a site whose policies I no longer support.

I also realize in the long run, this is a First World Problem. It does not affect any of the BIG things in my life and there are more important things to discuss and get upset about. I originally was not planning on posting anything. HOWEVER, I think as we’re all still really trying to figure out this whole internet/user content/what should be allowed thing out(I mean, relatively speaking, the flow of information the internet allows is still a recent change in how the bigness that is a good chunk of humanity operates), it can be an important conversation to have.

Now, on the surface, you wouldn’t think that I would be upset about Goodreads. You can see my profile, and how while I have no problem writing negative reviews, I have chosen not to really have any shelves about author behavior. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned an author past their last name in my review(though I might if I thought it was relevant). On the surface, this policy change doesn’t seem to affect me in the slightest. I think this is an important point, because while I may not be objective(because let’s face it, we are ALL subjective at some point in this conversation, and I tend to side with reviewers because, clearly, I am one), I have not been truly personally affected so far.

Even so, here’s why I dislike the new policy(which you can read on the Feedback Thread). 

1. This was handled incredibly POORLY on Goodread’s Part

First, they deleted reviews and shelves without warning by several bloggers. These shelves and reviews were NOT in violation of the current GoodReads policy. These reviewers had not been informed of the policy change yet. Emails were sent after the fact saying shelves and/or reviews had been deleted, and the reviewers in questions were given slaps on the wrist and were told if they continued to act contrary to the spirit of Goodreads, their accounts could be suspended.

Again, I reiterate: These reviewers were not INFORMED of the new policy before shelves were deleted. As I am currently writing this on Monday, September 23rd, Goodreads has yet to inform members of this new policy anywhere other than the feedback forum. There has been no official blog post nor email.

Not to mention the TIMING of the post. Goodreads posts this on Friday, offers a few(very few) clarifications as people discuss(and mostly against the new policy) in the comments on the thread. Eventually, Goodreads did apologize for deleting shelves and reviews without warning, but in the end, doesn’t do much good. Have the shelves and reviews returned? No. Again, it’s important to remember that the shelves used and reviews written were not against GoodRead’s policy when they were first used/written. And again, yes, Goodreads has every right to wield control over the site as they see fit, but this is not good customer service or public relations. By their actions, Goodreads has managed to lose some of their most loyal “customers”. And these customers may not be buying anything, but they ARE supplying Goodreads with most their biggest product–the content of the site itself. And if Goodreads manages to screw this policy change up(not even the actual policy itself, which we’ll get to, but just how they DEALT with it), then I really don’t trust them.

2. People have the right to choose whichever book they consume HOWEVER they want

Personally, I don’t REALLY blacklist authors. I mean, if an author has plagiarized, then I am not going to buy their books. But for the most part, I don’t personally have a “will-not-buy-because-of-author’s-actions” shelf. There are some “badly behaving authors” that I have read and enjoyed their work. BUT I respect people’s right to know what authors have done and readers have the right to choose to read or not read books for WHATEVER reasons. It would be different if someone in charge of say, stocking a library decided not to buy books from certain authors because they didn’t want to support them, but I’m talking only personal readers here.

For example, a lot of people won’t read Ender’s Game because they don’t want to support Orson Scott Card. And when reviewers are allowed to talk about WHY they don’t want to support Orson Scott Card in their reviewing space, it helps other readers make inform decisions about who they will and will not support. Personally, I get frustrated when people judge the quality of the actual written book based upon the character of author (like “The writing in this book is atrocious because the author kicks puppies”) because one does not influence the other. But you know what? Readers have the right to their opinion, and often when reviewers on Goodreads talk about WHY they won’t support authors, it helps others make informed decisions.

3. Let’s Figure out Professional Author Behavior Vs. Personal

Here’s the thing: Being an author, by it’s very nature, is a career that puts one as sort of a “public” figure. Whenever I read article tips for authors, a very common expression is “You are your brand.” This is why authors have websites, and twitter accounts, and Tumblr accounts they willfully link up. It’s part of marketing themselves, and therefore, their work.

The actions authors choose to do on their public platforms are PROFESSIONAL actions. Their profession that is directly tied into their work. So therefore, if an author decides to to take the very unprofessional action of berating a book reviewer on their public platform of their blog, that action is directly linked to what they are trying to sell–their brand. Their brand being themselves AND their books. And readers have a right to know if authors do something like that, or if authors plagiarize, etc. No one is for bullying of authors OR reviewers! But many Goodreads users go onto the site to be informed of the product they are investing in, either with time or money or both.

4. Shelve Deletion Has Been Hit-And Miss

So something that came up often on the thread in Goodreads was that even though GR said they were removing content that focused on authors or author behavior, the only deleted shelves and reviews that focused on NEGATIVE author behavior. Shelves like “awesome-authors” were kept alone by certain people. Later, positive reviews and shelves did begin to be deleted, but it seems very hit-and-miss.

5. It sets a Precedent

This reason, right here, is the reason I personally am very uncomfortable with the new policy. Yes, I don’t have any reviews or shelves that focus on author behavior. But by deleting shelves that focus on negative author behavior, Goodreads has set a precedent that they have no problem deleting reviews, changing policies(without real notification), and changing their minds from previous standpoints. And yes, again, they have every right to do that. But at the same time, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in users of the site. It makes me incredibly nervous about what they might do in the future, and doesn’t make me feel secure in putting my content on the site AT ALL.

SO. . . What to do?

Obviously, there have been a lot of reactions to the Goodreads update. Some people have decided to jump ship completely, most to BookLikes. And everyone will have to figure out where they stand on the new policy for themselves. As stated several times above, I haven’t really been personally affected by this update, but it makes me uneasy for the future. And so, here’s what I think I’m going to do from here on out:

1. Continue to use Goodreads’ cataloguing features & rate books

2. Continue to use Goodreads for book information(publishing dates, etc.)

3. Only post small excerpts from reviews and links to the blog.

I’ve never really been a fan of reviews that were just a small summary and a link to someone’s blog, but now I understand why. I’m uneasy trusting any of my content to Goodreads, so most of it’s going to remain right here, in this space that I completely own(especially since I pay for hosting and my domain). This is where I’ll keep that content, because if nothing else, what we’ve learned from the fiasco is that Goodreads has no problems alienating their content creators.

 I’m not ready to abandon Goodreads yet. It’s been an incredibly useful site, but this new precedent does make me nervous, so I’m going to change the way I interact with the site.

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30 responses to “Let’s Talk About Goodreads

  1. I am such a fail. It has taken me over a week just to get back to you and this post. o.o

    Is there anyone who is a fan of the new policy? If they are, they’re not posting about it, that’s for sure. It doesn’t matter how many other posts have been written, I’d still like to read your thoughts on the topic at any rate :).

    Ahhh, is that why they’d said it wasn’t censorship? Because they legally own the site and they can choose to change anything about the site and whatever they do is just them modifying their site? I have no idea what the … reasoning behind their reasoning was.

    Just because it’s a First World Problem doesn’t make it any less real in your life even if there are other things to get more upset about. It’s weird thinking about how relatively recent the internet is given what impact it’s had on our lives, right???

    Honestly, I think most people don’t have shelves about author behavior, but as you say, even if it doesn’t *seem* to affect you in the slightest, it still does.

    1. Yeahhh….. I don’t think they’re going to inform the whole site. A lot of the users who aren’t heavy users don’t care and they’d probably benefit more from the ignorance than from letting everyone know. Especially when users see a 4,000+ comment thread. Interesting that you use the word customers – last week I’d linked to this post by… hmm, Washington Post, I think, that suggested we were actually the products of Goodreads. I do agree that Friday was also poor timing as I’m sure many people had already taken off or weren’t paying attention to their emails for the weekend anyway.

    2. Yes to everything you’ve said. I have read a few badly behaving authors, and one author who had written a post that wasn’t too favorable towards bloggers is still one of my favorites even today. *Shrug* It’s such a struggle between wanting to support other bloggers and show solidarity and wondering whether you ought to give a second chance to that person. Ooh gods, if a person stocking a library stopped reading from an author – that’d definitely have a large impact.

    3.) Very true. And honestly the latest actions seem to not acknowledge that some reviewers also have a very public brand too and are public figures in the blogosphere. Shut them down and you’re doing the same as upsetting an author.

    4.) And there was a BBA shelf I found that hadn’t been deleted – still confusing.

    5.) Yep. Agreed.

    It seems like what you’ve decided to do is what I’ve seen a lot of people do as of late. And really, as of now, there is nothing else there to catalogue books as easily.

    • stormydawnc

      I’m not sure if that’s exactly why they said it wasn’t censorship, but I do think it’s definitely a reason to some people. And I will say that it did annoy me slightly when some people I’ve seen talking about it in general said it was a violated of freedom of speech(I can’t remember why I saw this–on a blog? on twitter? But I know I saw at least one person say it), and while I do hate the new policy, I thought it fair to recognize that it is their site.

      And that’s true about First World Problem. It does say a lot about how we interact on the internet.

      I read the Washington Post piece! That’s partially why I did chose to use the word consumer/customer. I agreed with some things the article said, but not all. I do agree that a large part of the time, users of the site are the product. We do supply a large amount of the content. But I don’t think it’s as black-and-white as all that, and in many ways we still are the consumer. Social media sites can be come extinct when their consumers decide to move elsewhere, and I thought the article you mentioned was a bit lacking in terms of nuance.

      It’s definitely a struggle between supporting bloggers & BBA. I definitely have lines that I won’t support, but I struggle a lot with the distance of creator & art/product. But at the same time, I don’t want to support with my money some actions. In general, it’s one of the things I struggle with the most since becoming a blogger & learning about certain author behavior.

  2. Great post, one of the best and most objective summaries I have read yet. Goodreads reacted without thinking it through, and forgot their own motto to ‘always err on the side of the reader’. I too have gone to Booklikes, and am enjoying it so far. I wont give up my Goodreads account anytime soon, but as far as contributing reviews I will also just do the excerpt with a link to my blog.

    It has only been a bit over a week, but I am already noticing MANY book bloggers now Tweeting their reviews and pointing directly to Booklikes instead of Goodreads.

    • stormydawnc

      Thank you. I tried to be objective–or at least as reasonable–as possible. Of course, in the heat of the moment my internal reaction wasn’t as rational, but I wrote this mainly for a way to sort out my own thoughts on this. BookLikes is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I’m sure in time I’ll learn how to use it. And the influx of followers I’ve had on BookLikes since the whole GoodReads thing just shows how big of a bad decision this really was on GoodReads part–at least how they decided to tell us about it.

  3. This is a great and rational breakdown of the situation. As upset as I am by so much of what they did wrong here, I think #5 might be the biggest… because it means we’ll always be wondering, “What’s next?” How can I feel comfortable contributing there now?

  4. Excellent discussion Stormy and all your points are thoughtful and balanced. My take is I’m distressed and uneasy by GR’s action as they affect our close knit community so much. I’ve set up a booklikes account but I don’t feel able to maintain another online presence. My plan is to set up and have it as a bolt hole to run to if GR mess up yet again.
    Part posting reviews is something to consider but I’m not there yet. If they delete a review at least it will be on my blog as a back up as it currently stands. Do you fear they might alter/edit a review on GR, is that your rationale?

  5. Bookish Recap: September 22nd – 28th | A Bookish Heart

    […] Goodreads Drama – Want to know about Goodreads policy changes?  Bekka @ Pretty Deadly Reviews, Stormy @ Book. Blog. Bake., Annie @ Random Reads, Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings, Charleen @ Cheap Thrills, SJ @ […]

  6. Shannelle C. (The Tracery of Ink)

    I’d actually quit, if only the covers were available to anyone to use. But as it is, clicking on the cover requires you to be a member, and the one reason I use Goodreads is for their book info.

    This is all just so saddening, especially since this means the real trolls have won a major victory.

  7. Goodreads is still a very useful platform. I spent a lot of time on there and I find there most of upcoming books etc. I’m still going to link back to it and I’m going to use the covers + blurb, but now I’m going to do the one thing I didn’t like (and you’ve named it) I’m only going to post a snippet and a link to my complete review. It’s a shame how things were handled and I don’t agree with them, but I’m not ready to leave that website. Especially because I don’t like all the other options.

    • stormydawnc

      Yeah, GR is awesome for book data! That’s exactly how I feel too. Guess we’ll both be doing the thing we didn’t like previously. I’d love to continue putting my full reviews up, but I don’t trust them enough with my content/intellectual property anymore.

  8. I’m still in the unknown category of this whole situation. How do I feel? Shocked and Concerned and Now What Do I Do? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and engaging a discussion. Will definitely read all views to consider what this situation means to me. Love Booklikes, my exposure already, but do miss some of the things I’ve come to love about Goodreads. Ugh!

    • stormydawnc

      Yeah, I’m definitely still sorting out my thoughts as well(partially why I decided to write this post). I’m mostly curious as to what it will mean for GoodReads’ future.

  9. It was definitely bad on Goodreads part to just go straight ahead and delete the shelves and reviews before even informing the reviewers about the new policy. They didn’t even give them a chance to remove or change them first before sending the warning.

    Goodreads has every right to change their policy but it worries me, I don’t want to be part of a site that willingly changes any policy and prevents reviewers from writing what they want and creating shelves of any name. If this is just the beginning, I don’t wish to see what they will do next and I don’t feel safe on GR anymore.

    I’m not going to use BookLikes because I’m just not a huge fan of it, it’s too similar to Tumblr and no HTML for reviews. But I’ll still use GR for cataloging purposes.

    Great post Stormy! I find it great of you to rationalise Goodreads’ actions, I can see their point but it wasn’t executed well at all and it leads me to wonder if Goodreads basically just sealed their own demise.

    • stormydawnc

      That’s why it worries me too–not so much the policy change(not that I’m the biggest fan, but I could live with it), but more of how they handled it. And I’m trying to get into BookLikes but you’re right, it’s very Tumblr-esque. So far, I’ve found it hard to follow, though it seems the Book Likes team is trying really hard. But they just don’t have quite the cataloging features available that GR does.

  10. Such great thoughts – gives me lots to think about!

    I haven’t come across reviews that was an excerpt w/a link to a blog. (I’ve seen full reviews that say originally published at so-and-so with a link, which is what I now do). I may think about doing the excerpt thing, I don’t know…

    I signed up for BookLikes a couple days ago just to see what it was all about. I love that we can have 1/2 star ratings there. But there’s a lot of functionality at GR that I don’t see at BookLikes yet (I know they’re still developing features).

    • stormydawnc

      I think those reviews typically get buried a bit because they’re not as popular. I normally only see them when a Goodreads friend post one. Yeah, BookLikes isn’t as awesome yet, but they do seem to be trying really hard. I think it could be a great site once they’ve expanded a bit(which they are doing).

  11. Well said. I’m in a similar boat–none of my content was deleted, but I’m uneasy about the idea that it could be deleted on a whim.

    For now, I’m posting my reviews on BookLikes, and I’ve synced my account with my GoodReads account so my reviews will be sent over to GoodReads, too… but I don’t know how long I’ll stay with that setup. I love how thorough GR’s book cataloging services are, but I don’t know if I can stay faithful to a site I don’t believe in.

    • stormydawnc

      That’s how I feel too. I plan to back everything up on BookLikes once the initial migration slows down a little. I’m hoping the cataloging features will expand a little and I can eventually use them primarily.

  12. Excellent post, Stormy. You pretty much sum up my feelings about the whole fiasco too. No, it’s not “censorship” in the technical sense, but it’s scarily close and it makes me uncomfortable. Goodreads’s PR team needs a smackdown; they handled this atrociously, and continue to do so. I don’t have anything to add to your post, really, just wanted to say that I agree with you completely!

    • stormydawnc

      Exactly. Even worse than the actual policy was just how they handled it. It just made me lose all confidence that they have any ability to enact change on their site in a way that won’t harm the content I post or take things away.

  13. Great analysis / response, Stormy. I have to say, I agree with you here. Overall, I’m just really disappointed that they handled this so poorly, because they pretty much ruined one of my favorite websites, and now I feel kind of displaced in the bookish community. It’s like a storm came and ravaged our village and now we’re all kind of wandering, unsure whether to stick around and rebuild, or move on to another place — and not everyone agrees on *which* new place to move.

    I really liked the way I could look at a book on GR and see reviews not only from my friends and people I follow, but from other community members, too. This alone just doesn’t seem as easy on any other site. And now I feel like I’m going to have to update my book catalogs on multiple sites… *just in case* … and I’m already out of sync. Blah.

    • stormydawnc

      That’s a fantastic analogy. And I agree. That’s pretty much what I’m doing–going to put my book catalog where I can so I’m ready to weather things if ANOTHER storm comes along.

  14. Hey darling 🙂 First of all, I am in love with the changes you’re making to your blog. Your social media icons are so amazing! Great use of texture!

    And on topic with this post, I had no idea this was going on. I’m not a big shelf person. Last week was the first time I actually attempted to organize my shit. Didn’t really work, but whatever.

    However, I don’t think that this is a first-world problem thing. I think it’s a signal that it’s okay for private corporations and online businesses to privatize their information. The ability for people to post opinionated content is shrinking, and this is happening all over the world. When I was in Greece there was even a huge protest to counteract their government shutting down their public news broadcasting services in order to privatize for austerity measures. This is one facet of the growing trend that reveals today’s major power players in the world as corporations rather than governments. For me this is a pretty big issue, even if this sole case isn’t as “big”. I don’t think GoodReads’ actions in censoring their content is appropriate for the kind of people who use their site: book reviewers. They may think that it’s a good idea in order to release tensions between author and reviewer drama that springs up, but it’s a short-sited attempt in my opinion.

    This is a great discussions post! I think you did a great job in outlining all the issues and I agree with every one of them. I don’t want to have to worry about negative reviews being deleted. Not cool! I better go check…

    • stormydawnc

      Aw, thank you. 🙂

      I like using my shelves for genre/often-used tropes, but I don’t have a ton of shelves like several people. And I’m bad at keeping up with them. As far as if it’s a first-world problem or not, that’s kind of how I felt too, though you articulated it much better than me. It says a lot about how information is being allowed to flow online.

  15. Admittedly… I lost my cool a bit when the changes first came out… And I don’t even have content that would be deemed “inappropriate” or in jeopardy of deletion. I was just really, really upset with how Goodreads handled things.
    I guess what it comes down to is a level of professionalism for me. Yes, blogging is my hobby, but I’m also promoting (or not promoting and just reviewing in the case of negative reviews) someone’s work and someone’s livelihood. I’m working with professionals — authors as well as publishers and publicists — so it’s my personal preference to maintain a level of professionalism on my blog. Of course I don’t condone bullying, but I don’t always think what is being ridiculed really IS bullying. Snarky reviews? Not always my thing, but NOT ALWAYS BULLYING. In fact, most often, it’s NOT bullying at all. People DO have the freedom to review whichever way they want and I totally support that. Of COURSE I don’t condone or support bullying, but you’re right — Goodreads did not handle this well because they didn’t clearly explain exactly what content will be in violation of their new policy and what will not.
    I digress…. But what bothered me the most was the lack of notification. Regardless if this is the most heinous thing that has ever been written about an author, I think that Goodreads user should be notified. It’s true that once you post something on Goodreads, technically it’s on their site and they can modify if they deem it inappropriate, but I guess for me it comes down to the people “on the line”. What if there’s something that GR says is a no-no and deletes it and the user wasn’t aware that it was in violation of their policy? I think they should at least be given the chance to either change it or take it down themselves. I don’t know… I get that it’s their site, they can do what they want, and a few bloggers leaving them really won’t hurt them that much, but I still disagree with how it was handled and I think it wouldn’t have blown up NEARLY as much if they just gave people warnings at least.
    I also do agree that sometimes authors are to blame as well as reviewers. It’s… a group effort haha. I don’t know… Again, for me, it comes back to professionalism. Address someone privately first if you think it’s a personal attack or if it feels that way. I don’t know… I think that could really help a LOT of public blow outs, ya know? I’m sure there are plenty of times this has been done and we don’t know about it too!
    Sorry… I basically wrote my own post in your comments hahaha. LOTS OF FEELINGS on the Goodreads AND reviewer/author drama.

    • stormydawnc

      Yes, I agree with ALL of this. I’m not a huge fan of the new policy to begin with(to a point, you really can’t separate authors & work sometimes. I don’t feel like a due-to-author shelf is offensive, bullying, or even rude, really. It could mean so many things!). though I think there are definitely times both parties are to blame. I try to avoid it all for the reason of professionalism most of the time until the word bully gets tossed around–bullying should be(and is) such a BIG DEAL and it has very long, very real consequences on lives, so it unsettles me greatly when someone says a review of a product is bullying, and I think often times there are reviewers & authors that fall on both sides of the drama, but only in a select few cases do I think anyone has been bullied.

      But if it had just been the new policy on its own, I probably wouldn’t have written this post or decided to touch the subject at all. It’s just. . . MAN, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a site as well-used by a select group of people(us book lovers) do their PR SO. BADLY. Like the way they handled it was so bad & misinformed there almost aren’t words. And it’s still upsetting that this policy has changed and I STILL haven’t received an email or notice on the site itself about the policy change.

  16. Well put, Stormy. I used to hate when I saw someone rate a book and then post a link to their blog without anything else. I rarely clicked off-site when using GoodReads anyway, because what would be the point? Everything I needed, all my friends’ reviews and thoughts, that info was right there.

    For me, I’ve decided to stay but also use Book Likes since many people have moved over there entirely. I have not yet decided if I’ll leave my content on GoodReads or not.

    • stormydawnc

      Yeah, I don’t typically click off-site when using Goodreads, and I still don’t really *like* the idea of just linking to my blog, but I like the idea of trusting GoodReads with my content even less now, so I’ll take the lesser road. Right now, I’m going to leave all the content I currently have on GR there, but set up shop in BookLikes just in case & be prepared for future changes.

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