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A lot of you are probably on Goodreads. Goodreads, as you may know, was recently bought by Amazon. There was much drama over that. "Amazon is eeeeevil!!!" etc.

Then in a recent admittedly ham-handed policy change, Goodreads began deleting "inappropriate" reviews that were based on author behavior or deemed "off-topic."

Queue outrage heard across the Internet.

Salon's coverage: How Amazon and Goodreads could lose their best readers .

For those who may not be familiar with this latest tantrum in a teacup, the nutshell version is this: for a long time, a certain percentage of Goodreads reviewers, often the most highly-ranked ones, have specialized in snarky, wall-of-macro reviews, often of books they haven't even read, targeting authors for various forms of bad behavior (having Twitter meltdowns over bad reviews, attacking reviewers, revealing themselves as bigots, plagiarists, etc.). Besides posting mocking reviews, reviewers have put the books on "shelves" (Goodreads' version of tagging) like "badly-behaving-author", "written-by-a-plagiarist", "will-never-read", etc.

Until recently, Goodreads basically did no policing beyond the bare minimum (removing pornographic images, threats, libel, etc.). Then came the policy change that, as originally written, implied that reviews that focused on the author rather than the book were no longer permitted.

Besides filling many threads with ranting and raging, people responded by posting reviews of Mein Kampf criticizing Hitler and shelving it as "author-invaded-Poland", "author-is-a-genocidal-maniac", etc., filling reviews of random books about network algorithms or 14th century Japanese history with off-topic rants about Goodreads, then flagging these reviews and daring Goodreads to delete them. This has been going on for some time, while Goodreads has basically gone quiet (and largely not deleting most of these troll reviews).

One of the elephants in the room is the notorious site Stop the Goodreads Bullies, which was started by a self-published author named Melissa Douthit who was herself kicked off of Goodreads for violating its TOS. STGRB targets reviewers who write scathing reviews of authors they like, and has in the past gone so far as to "dox" some of the more popular (and critical) reviewers.

(Be warned: following those links will take you down an endless rabbit-hole of blog drama going back a few years.)

Since STGRB's alleged grievances have to do with "bullying" reviewers picking on authors, many people felt that the new rules came about as a result of agitation by the likes of Douthit, basically giving in to authors complaining about bad reviews.

It's worth noting that the vast majority of the drama has revolved around self-published and YA authors. People write flaming reviews of everyone from Anne Rice to Charles Dickens all the time, but no one cares.

Goodreads has made several attempts to clarify its position, and my interpretation is that what they are trying to convey is that the new rule is basically: "Don't be a jerk, and post reviews that actually have some content."

My own opinion is that Goodreads stepped in it, badly, by summarily deleting a handful of reviews as their first move, without warning or any recourse for the reviewers to back up the offending reviews. Since then they've now changed their policy to warning reviewers if a review is deemed "unacceptable" and giving them time to edit or change it.

I do not think the charges of "censorship" really hold up. Goodreads is a private site and can establish whatever TOS they like. It is problematic in that it still remains unclear whether a review will be in danger of being deleted because you talk too much about the author. However, I confess that even for authors who understandably piss a lot of people off, whether it's Vox Day or Cassandra Clare, I see little value in adding "reviews" of their books that you haven't even read, on the premise that you want to warn anyone else against reading them because the author is a bad person.

On the other hand, Goodreads has from the beginning established itself as a social networking site, not just a collection of book reviews. So discussion, of books and authors, is a natural extension of its function and there will understandably be a lot of crossover between these meta-discussions and what gets posted in reviews. Like any online community, Goodreads users are prone to mounting campaigns, throwing monkey wrenches, and trying to subvert the environment in ways its owners did not intend. Trying to control users and steer their contributions into more "market"-friendly channels is a precarious business.

And on the other other hand, as the Salon article about put it:

As for disaffected Goodreads members, they’re learning a hard lesson often overlooked by the boosters of digital utopianism: Sooner or later people need to get paid, and sooner or later you get what you pay for. Goodreads’ staff may be small, but they can’t run the site for nothing, and attempts to monetize it could not be postponed indefinitely.

An entire generation has now grown up with no memory of not having everything available for "free" online. They frequently forget that servers cost money, bandwidth costs money, system administrators cost money. You cannot run a site like Goodreads for free, and a lot of its users would be shocked to learn just how expensive it is to maintain a site with millions of daily users. So yes, if they have to choose between "free expression" and "make this site attractive and profitable," the "author-is-a-douche" shelves may have to go.

Poll #1941630 Much Ado about Goodreads

Are you a Goodreads member?

Yes, I'm an active member.
Yes, but I'm not very active.
Yes, but I am deleting/abandoning my account.
No, just never bothered.
What's Goodreads?

Do you think Goodreads' new TOS are reasonable or censorship?

I don't like it, but they are within their rights.
The policy seems reasonable, but they should engage with the community more.
I don't get what the fuss is about.
It's about time they cracked down on asshole reviewers.

What book communities are you a member of?

Other LJ communities
Other (describe below)

Previous Saturday Book Discussions.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2013 07:34 pm (UTC)
I haven't come across any of these anti-author reviews and it isn't something I'd be interested in anyway.

The only thing I have noticed is what may be sock-puppets who jump up and down when someone gives a book they consider the best thing since sliced bread a satirical/poor review. I've seen some of them get abusive about the reviewer or anyone who criticises the book (yes YA).
Nov. 2nd, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
I hate when people leave reviews for books they have not read or all about the author. I want to know about the book.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC)
Especially when there's already a hatedom going. If all you have are secondhand reports from people who have heard secondhand reports, how accurate do you think the facts are?
Nov. 2nd, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
I'm okay with the "reviews" of books they haven't read in cases of plagiarism. Everything else, well, crappy people can still write good books, so I rarely care about author behavior.
Nov. 3rd, 2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
crappy people can still write good books

Exactly. I mean, if someone wants to start a group about Authors Behaving Badly or something, that's fine, but book reviews are about the book. And I get really tired of all the Laurell K Hamilton reviews that come out on each new book before it's released saying 'oh the plot description mentions sex, it's just like all her other books, why can't she unwrite the last 10 books and make what I want canon?' If you haven't liked the author's past however many books, get over it already.

Reviews commenting on jacket copy before the book comes out annoy me too, although admittedly not as much. I don't mean people who have ARCs or review copies or whatever, I mean people just posting 'this sounds awesome' or 'this sounds horrible, I'll never read it' and then giving the book a rating (3 out of 5 stars etc).
Nov. 7th, 2013 10:21 am (UTC)
Same here! I really dislike it when people praise (or criticize) books they haven't even bothered to read.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
From what I've been able to tell, this all started with a relatively small number of authors and reviewers that has spiraled horribly out of control. For some reason people throw stones at an enraged bull and then act all shocked and outraged when it charges. They scream and yell and draw all sorts of attention. And people, especially on the internet, love to jump on the outrage bandwagon.

Goodreads took some steps to stop the escalating war. I personally feel the execution of those steps was handled poorly, but I completely understand why they did it and, in all honesty, I don't feel the new rules are unreasonable or overly harsh. As someone who runs and moderates a board as part of my job, I am well aware of the line you have to walk in keeping a community functioning somewhat peacefully.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 07:52 pm (UTC)
1. Yes, but I quit several years ago.
2. Reasonable but there's a reason I don't engage with the site anymore.

At this point if there are links going to goodreads I avoid following them because some of the reviews make me RAEG. Why do you bother writing a review that consists of nothing but "I liked it"?! How don't you see the gaping problems in storytelling, worldbuilding,and consistent characterization?! So I avoid the site.

Personally I am not a fan of author and reader mixed spaces. I know that public posting is public, but I prefer to be in spaces which are mostly reader-only, since I'm here to discuss novels. I'm not interested in being friends with authors specifically or really reading much of their interviews/talks/thoughts--I'd rather discuss the text. Kind of Author is Dead, I suppose. I don't like reviewers that are snarky to be snarky (that's one way of walking into a book that will decide your experience before you even start) but I prefer to be in a space where I can be critical without having the author right there.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 08:52 pm (UTC)
The whole "Amazon bought Goodreads!" kerfuffle, I found kind of funny. They already partially owned LibraryThing and none of the dire predictions people were making had come to pass there.

Technically I have a Shelfari account, but only because I decided to look at it, and couldn't leave without correcting a character who'd somehow been listed as a location.

I don't generally read YA or self-published*, so I miss most of the drama, but the macro heavy reviews I've run across struck me as more annoying than clever. (I am an old fart though.) However, I agree that just deleting reviews without any notice is a poor idea. Some probably need to go, others might be more useful with editing, and apparently some may have been deleted for no apparent reason. (I remember seeing someone being puzzled by some of their favorable Harry Potter reviews being deleted without warning.)

I do think deleting the shelf names is a bit silly, most people aren't going to notice them.

*Even if the last book I finished was both.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 08:54 pm (UTC)
If they do this, can they start deleting reviews for books before they come out, too? I hate that so much, and it screws up the book's ratings once the book does come out.

I'm so tired of the whole "Goodreads is full of bullies" thing, though. I've been on it for years and never seen a single one, but I know a lot of self-pubbed authors who start talking about the bullies the second GR is mentioned. (Not saying there are no bullies at all on the site because there are and their behavior is shocking, but it's a much smaller percentage of people than others seem to think.)

If bad behavior colors your perceptions of a book (I'll usually overlook a Twitter fit, for example, but I doubt I'll ever bother reading OSC at this point), I do think it's a legitimate thing to discuss. And if you don't care about an author's behavior, you don't have to read those reviews.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
If they do this, can they start deleting reviews for books before they come out, too?

Would that exclude reviews from people who received advanced copies? If so, how would they check? If not, why not? (Disclaimer: I've reviewed ARCs, none of which I've received through Goodreads, so they'd have to take my word.)
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:25 pm (UTC)
That wasn't what I was thinking of. I was thinking of all the people who give books 5 stars months before they come out because they're excited about it--the reviews basically say stuff like "I can't wait to find out what happens and I love this series!" So some books can have multiple 5-star ratings before they've even come out, which...argh.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:41 pm (UTC)
As annoying as it is, I don't see how they can prevent it, short of disabling reviews before the actual release date (which would preclude ARC reviews which would defeat the purpose of ARCs which would make publishers very unhappy).

You can't prove anyone has actually read the book they are reviewing, after all.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
Nod. I can still hope they come up with a way, though.
Nov. 3rd, 2013 12:46 pm (UTC)
I've read ARCs and I like that I can review them on goodreads (you can't post amazon reviews before the book's release date, or at least you couldn't last time I tried to), but those content-free reviews annoy the heck out of me too.

I think if goodreads asked people not to post reviews without reading the book and then let members flag these to be read by staff or senior librarians or somebody that might work, although it'd still increase somebody's workload. Or make a new kind of review where you can say 'squee I can't wait to read this' but not give a star rating. That's what affects the book's takeaway reputation I think.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:33 pm (UTC)
I like your rundown of the Goodreads drama - it's informative and objective. I don't get people who act like a company they are frequenting for free can't do what they want as far as deleting reviews, etc. I guess it all comes down to this: if you're an asshole don't be surprised when someone objects.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
Honestly, while I'm leery of their definition of "unacceptable" I've stopped using GR as much as I did when I first signed up. It was a great resource for those looking to expand horizons, get in contact with other bibliophiles, and just simply to check up on whether a book was worth a read or not. The more GR turned into a snarky, facebook-esque pit of whiny teenaged reviewers, the less it was usable for any actual purpose. Maybe it's because people are too stupid to actually comprehend what a review is, but trying to comb through multiple pages for someone who gave any semblance of objective info about a book is getting to be damned near impossible - and I don't read fan fic or self published things. Wall of text, 100s of .gifs, gushing about personal feeling or movies (!?!), and more commentary about the author then the actual book is just default now, and it's annoying. I'd love to see GR go back to being a useful tool instead of a snarky coffee house.

Edited at 2013-11-02 10:39 pm (UTC)
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:44 pm (UTC)
That's not my experience at all. For the most part, I have to go looking for the snarky reviews to find them. But it depends a lot on who's on your friends list.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
It has nothing to do with who's on your friends list. Going to look at a book shows you the reviews of everyone, not just your friends. I fail to see the connection?

Nov. 2nd, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
Reviews from your friends are listed ahead of other reviews, and I also get email digests of friends' reviews. So I generally don't see the others.

Also, I don't read many of the books that attract the snarky macro reviews.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC)
If you are using the site as a tool and not as a social endeavor, you don't have a ton of people on your friends list. Additionally, it doesn't seem like much of a far fetched concept that friends may not read the same types of books all the time. Which is why I said that I'd love for the site to again be more of a "useful tool."

Secondly, I check lots of YA books out on GR. I like kids to be able to read what interests them in the classroom, and it's part of my job to actually check out books, both for suitability in regards to content, as well as potential enjoyability. YA novel reviews are littered with garbage. So, while I myself haven't read some of the books I look up on GR, the fact that snarky macro reviews make up a large percentage of reviews for some types of books is clearly part of what I based my original comment on. Science fiction is also a target for useless reviews, and so is fantasy to some degree - both categories make up the majority of my personal preferred reading.

It's nice for you that you have friends that have both read and chosen to review the books you are interested in reading, and that you generally don't read the types of books that tend to garner worthless reviews, but that doesn't negate the fact that they are out there. If you don't come into contact with them now, then use of the site will not change for you, nor will it affect in either direction what you use the site for. For other who do run into this, or just desire a decent site where people can actually review books, clearly this issue does have an impact.
Nov. 2nd, 2013 11:24 pm (UTC)
I do use it as a tool, but over time I've acquired a fairly large number of friends. They do read lots of stuff outside my usual genres/interests, but none of them are teenagers or primarily YA readers.

I agree the problem is much more endemic to YA and self-published books. I haven't really seen what you describe in SF and fantasy so much.
Nov. 3rd, 2013 03:53 am (UTC)
That's what annoys me too. Also, snark is rarely as funny as people make it out to be. Unless it's genuinely funny, the writer is good, or they're goodnatured about it, snark is usually just hyperbolic negativity. (I'd like the misogyny around some of the YA novels to go away too, but one thing at a time.)
Nov. 3rd, 2013 01:30 am (UTC)
I am slowly in the process of removing all of my reviews from Goodreads. Not that I have any reviews or "shelf names" that they would consider unreasonable, but because I am not at all comfortable with the deletions that occurred recently. My reviews (and yours) are what made GR the site that it is and while they have the right to change their ToS, I have the right to remove my reviews and place them elsewhere (in my case, LibraryThing, where things roll along much more maturely shall we say). I never found myself in any of the 'spats' often described at the heart of the drama and pride myself on writing somewhat thoughtful reviews, but I will go to the mat to defend a reader's right to pen any review they like, gif filled or no. And as a person who has never been able to successfully separate the author from their work (my reviews of Hemingway and Orson Scott Card are full of this), I think the new GR policy is bunk. But that's just me, haha....
Nov. 5th, 2013 08:18 am (UTC)
Honestly? I don't read the reviews on GoodReads. I refuse to judge a book before I've read it, because a book someone else hates may end up being one I love, so why should I listen to them?

So, reviews aside, I love the statistical resources. Like keeping track of which books I've read this year (and past years) complete with charts and graphs. Or a list of books I've heard of and found interesting and will never remember the titles of later on. Or the Venn diagrams of your books vs. your friends' books. All of that is MUCH more useful to me than the rantings (good or bad) of random strangers.
Nov. 6th, 2013 04:10 am (UTC)
This was very interesting - thanks!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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