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.