If you’ve had your ear to the ground in the book world this past week, you’d likely have heard about the controversial actions taken by Goodreads. If you aren’t keyed into such news, then you’ve very likely not heard anything about it, hence some of the controversy.
Here’s the (un-detailed) detailed summary of the situation, with my commentary (of course):
- Goodreads changed their policy regarding reviews and author guidelines earlier this year. They now request that authors don’t engage with negative reviews but instead advise them to flag the negative review if it doesn’t comply with said review guidelines.
Fine. I expected some changes with Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads. In fact, I really don’t think that this will be the last of the changes made to Goodreads’ business practices and policies. They might exclaim that they are still a good ole ethical want-to-good website, but when you’re owned by a big business whose business is making money, freedom to make those decisions goes away. The motives change. I’m not upset by it (maybe a little) but I recognize it as reality. It is what it is. One theory I’ve heard is that they are prepping for the option to cross-post reviews onto Amazon.
- Goodreads did not make any site-wide announcement about the revisions to their policy.
I wouldn’t have thought that Goodreads would want to take a leaf out of Facebook’s book, so to speak. This to me stinks of all those little sneaky policy changes that Facebook used to/still does that caused enough outrage that Facebook had to implement a voting option to allow users to weigh in on policy changes. Albeit, that hasn’t exactly worked out thanks to the apathy of users, but still, I expected better from Goodreads (despite my realist attitude above).
- Goodreads began to delete users’ shelves and reviews if they were deemed in violation of new policy—without giving any warning to the users (who at this point were in good-standing with Goodreads and were not aware of the policy change). The reviews deleted were supposedly those that had attacked an author’s behavior in a way that was not related to the book. The intent behind the shelves deleted was determined by Goodreads, and those that were used by users to group books in a negative way.
The key thing here: without prior notice of anything. It has been labeled as an attempt at censorship by some. Goodreads has since updated their little announcement thread (the only place this has been announced) in a group that users have to join. They apologize for making those deletions without notice and aim to send users a notification prior to their reviews or shelves being deleted.
- Goodreads intends to continue reviewing and deleting those shelves and reviews that are written negatively in a way that does to pertain to the review.
Okay, so here’s where things get a bit complicated. Some people don’t find a review written in a complete attack against an author, sometimes before the book has even been published, to be helpful and shouldn’t have a place in Goodreads.
However, where is the line drawn? It has come out through authors’ Twitter feeds that authors are being encouraged to flag negative reviews (though really only when it is in violation of the review policy). This wasn’t instantly known by users of Goodreads either. GR-Amazon (pronounced gramazon…you’re welcome) wants to put a stop to some of the bullying attacks that can happen any online commenting/opinion forum. But if they are really trying to make the reviews about books, shouldn’t those reviews that go in the opposite direction (praise for an author without bring rooted in the exact book) be flagged? There is a genuine worry that more power is being given to authors to flag any negative review that they don’t like.
People sometimes want to consider an author’s beliefs, behavior, and/or history when deciding to consume a book. Those are factors that they find important in a review. Does this mean that Goodreads is no longer a forum for readers, but instead a tool for Amazon to sell more books?
A big problem I have with all of this is some of the interpretation that Goodreads has to do in order to make these deletions. Examples are shelves named ‘taa,’ ‘Hormel,’ and ‘due to author’ were deleted, despite their benign names. Goodreads inferred that the point of those shelves was to categorize books that the user viewed in a negative way due to an author’s behavior. Huh? And then there’s some weird stuff happening to people’s reviews, like review dates being changed as heard about from the Sword and Laser book club’s discussion about this.
This erupted over the weekend, and a few people have made the decision to discontinue use of Goodreads. The current problem is that there are no really satisfactory alternatives to Goodreads, especially for book clubs. Some users have started accounts at Booklikes.com, which as far as I understand it is like a Tumblr for books (I’ll probably be making an account there soon myself, just to stay current.). I wonder if this means that there will be an increase importance on blogs as a source for uncensored (though I’d temper that with reasonable and respectful) thoughts on books and their authors.
I shall try to stay current with these changes, as I’m curious to see if GR-Amazon will establish criteria to make these deletions less subjective. In the end, as it has been repeated a few times, it is a free service and we are at the whims of the big business. And we have the freedom of choice and the ability to discuss.
How did you hear about this? What are your thoughts? Are you going to be jumping ship or will you stick with Goodreads?