For reference purposes, the retail entity Amazon purchased Goodreads in May of 2013. This is possibly (most likely) relevant. It is also noteworthy that, while GR users were unhappy with the purchase, a lot of them seemed to adopt the “wait and see” mentality that I shared. Goodreads reassured users that this buy-out would not affect the site except in minor ways (such as Amazon.com becoming the default retailer). Otis, the head GR person, stated that the site would by and large err on the side of readers if there was an issue. This is obviously not the case any longer (many GR users are convinced that this is all Amazon wanting nothing but positive reviews because that’s what sells books if you ask them, but Amazon spokespersons have said that this is not the case, and this decision was made by GR admins on their own. If I can find the link where I read that, I’ll post it):
On September 20, 2013, Goodreads admin Kara announced in the Goodreads Feedback group that the TOS for reviewers (here-in referred to as “users”, as opposed to “authors” who have a separate TOS) had changed. Here are the highlights:
[It is important to note that, up until this point, Goodreads had been “hiding” reviews that were unrelated to the book itself, so that only the reviewer’s friends and followers could see the review. Often these reviews said “see comments” or had some kind of explanation of shelving. Reviewers were aware that this was not a review of the book, and Goodreads was content to hide these reviews.]
- The gist of this post from Kara stated that Goodreads review space was for reviews of the books only. (Obviously.)
- Kara updated her post to state that “[goodreads admins] haven’t deleted any book reviews in regard to this issue” and goes on to clarify that the reviews that were deleted were statements such as “the author is an asshole and you shouldn’t read this book because of that.”*
- In the same update, Kara responds to some concerns raised by frequent users that goodreads wants users to just shut up and deal with harassment from authors. Kara reiterates the TOS that states any harassment from fellow users or authors should be flagged and reported to goodreads staff. Obviously, this is great if the harassment happens on goodreads, but the majority of harassment happens off-site (including harassing phone calls made to reviewers’ home phones*). Again obviously, goodreads cannot do anything about the off-site harassment (they only can concern themselves with issues that occur on their website and thus their servers). I’ll address this issue further later on.
- In a second update to her original post, Kara admits that 21 reviewers had bookshelves AND reviews deleted in some combination. (The final total came to over 300 reviews lost to Goodreads’ deletion). This deletion happened prior to this feedback group announcement, and with no e-mail/notification to the users who were affected.
- This “TOS change” happened on a Friday, leaving users who were privy to the so-called announcement (in other words, only those active users in the feedback group) to fret for an entire weekend. Some users moved their books over to booklikes, librarything, to personal blogs, and other websites (I’m sure there were a few tumblr moves, as well). Questions and concerns from users went largely unanswered, partially answered, or blatantly ignored.
- As of October 21, 2013, there has still been no site-wide announcement regarding this change. On a website that boasts over 20 million members, reaching only 15k of that (and then, only the ones active in the feedback group) isn’t a lot. It’s hardly a percentage. And we’re still waiting (but mostly, we’ve given up on there being a site-wide announcement).
Of particular note in that post by Kara is the first comment made by a now-deleted user, who gives a brief summary of Kara’s post as well as users’ reactions.
In response, Ceridwen, a long-time user of goodreads, put out a call for the original 21 users who had shelves and reviews deleted to please contact her, as she would like to collect some statistical data. It took a little while, but she eventually managed to collect data from 11 of the 21 users and produced this. Ceridwen uses screennames and psuedonyms for the users, so that their anonymity is protected as much as it can be.
Of particular note from Ceridwen’s data is a list of reasoning for books being shelved as such thing as “badly behaving author” or “due to author” (this shelf in particular was notable, and I will discuss it later). This list of reasons includes plagiarism, down-voting conspiracy, racism, homophobia, and even one author of children’s books that was convicted of possession of child porn. Yes, seriously. This also includes reviews that made mention if the book in question was P2P (pulled to publish; in other words, books that got their start as fanfiction, were pulled off the internet, reworked, then published as “original” fiction. This is a source of contention between some reviewers, as there is an ethical grey area regarding publishing works that got their start as a potentially copyright infringing work).
An overwhelming amount of books were shelved due to conflict between author and reviewer, whether this conflict happened on goodreads or not (these conflicts span facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and other social networking sites as well as amazon.com’s own site).
The numbers regarding this are also interesting, as an amazing 64% of the reviews deleted were in relation to books by 37 authors. (Interesting to me is the publisher information, as a vastly overwhelming number of these deleted reviews were for self-published books. This is only interesting to me, as a reviewer, and may not be interesting to you if you are only a reader or don’t care about publishing origins.)
In the comments of Ceridwen’s post with these numbers, Ziv W makes note that the deletions were targeted towards certain reviewers, not just reviews. (I can possibly attest to this, as I had a shelf labeled “bad author no cookie”, and yet two and a half weeks after this announcement, the only thing goodreads had done was to disable me from adding books to that particular list. I hadn’t had anything deleted and I’ve since renamed the shelf to “sour apples”). The theory behind this is that the reviewers in question are popular and hold some sway over GR users. This is, of course, ridiculous.
Ceridwen has since opened a tumblr to keep record of some of the backlash from this. You can check that one out for yourselves.
One of Cuddlebuggery‘s own bloggers, Steph, had her “due to author” shelf deleted. This shelf does not denigrate or in any way offer anything negative or positive about an author; instead it was a note that she either wanted to read or not to read the books in question. In their weekly feature, Buzz Worthy News, from the October 7 edition, it was announced that GR was attempting to retrieve Steph’s reviews for her record, and that her “due to author” shelf is apparently now within site guidelines. Furthermore, Steph could re-import her reviews from that shelf, but that the offending content could not be re-uploaded.
Cuddlebuggery goes on to discuss that the “offending content” happened to be in the comments sections of the reviews and mostly contained the reasons why the book was shelved the way it was. This includes screencaps and links to the issues at hand. Which means that not only did GR delete reviews that were “non-inflammatory”, but that they were possibly scoping the comments sections looking for offenses. This relates back to the previously mentioned theory that GR targeted certain reviewers.
I want to add here that even if GR manages to send Steph her reviews and she re-imports them, the comments section, and therefore reasoning behind the shelving in the first place, is gone. I haven’t seen anymore updates from Steph on this, so I don’t know if her reviews were ever returned to her (if she needed them to be in the first place).
Around October 10, just as this was starting to die down, GR had to go and fuck everything up again. This time, it was the relating API relation between booklikes and GR, and books disappearing “mysteriously” from goodreads. They took the time to point the finger at booklikes, except… Well, it was their fault for not paying attention to their API coding.
Here’s how it works:
If you connect your two accounts, anything you do on booklikes (for example, if you add a book as “to read” or shelve a book as “read”) will translate over to your goodreads account, as well. This does not compute the other way around (if you add a book to your goodreads shelves, it will not show up on booklikes). Kaia discusses this a little (I had to do some digging to find this as an original post, as it had been reblogged a few times by the time it hit my feed). You can see on Literary Ames’ blog post that the coding for the API on GR is/was out of wack–they initially had a “review-destroy”command, so if you deleted/unshelved books on booklikes, they would likewise be deleted from your lists on goodreads. This command has apparently since been removed, but I’ve yet to see GR take back their finger pointing.
Essentially, goodreads’ coding is screwy (apparently, there was a separate bug that had nothing to do with the API issue going at the same time. So two issues in one. Joy).
That’s about where we stand today. There’s a lot of mini-rebellion going on over on Goodreads (censorship icons instead of userpics, changing usernames to reflect their unhappiness, etc.), and even a full-on revolt, including what’s been dubbed The Hydra movement. Goodreads has started shutting down any kind of dissenting opinion.
Overall, there has been a mass exodus of people from GR onto other platforms, as well as a call for a different-but-the-same website for leaving users (we like the format of GR, and it hasn’t been completely duplicated anywhere, but also a different TOS that will protect users instead of an end goal of making money).
*I want to mention that the issue of reviewers/bloggers/GR users receiving harassing phone calls is a major one and also includes personal, identifying information being posted online (such as where these reviewers live, what their real names are, jobs, families, etc.). These reviewers felt threatened, and GR’s deletion of reviews and sudden policy of “no negative stuff in the comments either” has essentially told these reviewers that GR’s stance is that the users can shut the fuck up because they don’t care. This issue is huge and goes far beyond the scope of this blog post.
Way to go, GR. Way to go.
I also want to say that there’s been some talk, mostly in news publications that were “reporting” on the issue. This talk includes saying that if we are not purchasing things from GR, then we are not its customers/consumers but rather its product. This is, by and large, fucking incorrect. GR users are not its product–we are patrons, at the least; we can also be seen as customers. After all, if you walk into a store, you’re still seen as a customer/consumer regardless of whether you purchase anything or not. For those users that are also librarians, they are volunteers (of maintenance). The product is the website itself and the social-type service it offers (or used to offer). So kindly learn some terms and STFU, reporters.