Goodreads announced a new content policy on Friday. In addition to a few token gestures in support of an anti-bullying policy, this Amazon-owned online community has announced that they will now delete bookshelves and reviews that focus on author behavior:
We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to [email protected] (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)
The reviews and bookshelves with titles like "Authors Behaving Badly" will be deleted without warning or notice, which IMO as a moderator of Mobileread Forums (since December 2007) is in and of itself unprofessional.
Update: I've realized that some parts of this post were written in the heat of the moment and are a tad hyperbolic. I have crossed some sections out because they are a little over the top.
This policy is so one-sided as to be actively hostile to the reader/reviewers that used to be the very reason that Goodreads existed. It won't have the least effect on authors behaving badly, but it will make it harder for reviewers to tell everyone about the abusive behavior. This new policy gives abusive authors carte blanche to be jerks elsewhere (twitter, FB, email, blogs), but it removes one of the better ways that reviewers can share knowledge about authors behaving badly.
In fact, let me give you an example of the shenanigans that an author can now pull outside of Goodreads.
Back in April I wrote a post about Anne Rice siccing her fans on a reviewer. My post would not be allowed on Goodreads because it discussed an author's behavior, but it is entirely relevant to whether you or I might want to read Anne Rice's novels.
And if that doesn't convince you, consider some of the comments left on this page on Goodreads. The commenters point out that the author was using the book to stalk a girl he was obsessed with. If these were reviews, they would be deleted even though they validly influence my buying decisions.
And in case you're thinking that this will stop authors from being bullied, you're wrong. This content policy will have only the slightest effect on reviewers bullying authors; at best the negative behavior will be moved offsite.
Also, there is an order of magnitude difference between deleting bullying reviews and deleting all reviews that focus on an author's behavior. One could be covered under a general anti-bullying policy, while the other
oddles authors goes too far.
Update: Here's a comment I left in response to a reader. I think it offers a more reasoned argument.
This new policy throws the baby out with the bathwater.
It is an orthogonal solution that solves a small part if the bullying issue but then continues on to mess with all sorts of other unrelated issues that aren’t problems. This policy affects more content than just what the bullies post to harass authors, and I object out of principle.
Does GR have a bullying problem? Clearly. But the root of the problem is that GR isn’t moderating the behavior of the community and the site has turned toxic. Fix the lack of moderation and fix the toxic nature of GR and GR won’t have to remove reviews that comment on author behavior. Or if they do it will be because a particular example was bullying, and not just a commentary on an author’s behavior.
I am all in favor of fixing the bullying problem but that would involve real work in making GR members behave. That means more staff which would require more money than simply deleting reviews.
And to make matters worse, Goodreads has already started deleting reviews and bookshelves with absolutely no notice or warning. The very fist comment on the announcement, which was posted a mere 13 minutes after the announcement, reported that:
Goodreads has already started deleting reviews and shelves they deem to go against this new rule without giving any warning whatsoever. No one has been given a grace period to perhaps save their reviews or move them. GR just outright deleted them.
Even if your shelf can be misconstrued to be negative towards authors, it will be deleted.
TBH, I am not surprised. Goodreads has been moving towards a pro-author/anti-reviewer policy for well over a year now. I can recall reading criticisms of it as early as last July. Here's an excerpt of a blog post I published at the time:
But I’ve lately been looking over a series of blog posts (one, two, three, four) by Dear Author reviewer and blogger VacuousMinx concerning some friction that arose in recent months between reader-reviewers and the authors who are also encouraged to use the site. As a result of this friction, Goodreads has recently issued new guidelines, which are unabashedly a lot more favorable toward writers than readers. It seems Goodreads has a pretty clear idea on what side its bread is buttered, and if you’re a reader that bread is always going to land buttered-side down.
In short, the reviewer guidelines seem rather harsh, filled with “thou shalt nots”. The author guidelines are filled with friendly suggestions. Where reviewers are warned that Goodreads will delete reviews that are not “appropriate or a high enough level of quality” (though without any specific details supplied as to what criteria they use for judging), authors are told that it’s “not advisable” to spam the people who read or added your book because that might result in getting flagged as a spammer. And if authors are flagged as spammers, Goodreads “will have to take action.”
In light of last year's policy changes, today's news really comes as no surprise.
It's sad, disappointing, and makes Goodreads considerably less useful as a resource for readers, but it is not a surprise.
P.S. Does anyone want to take a bet on how long it will be until Goodreads decides to delete comments that discuss an author's behavior? I say 6 months.
image by danxoneil