A Goodreads Broughaha Primer

It's come to my attention (and I probably should have thought of this myself) that there are many book lovin' folks and Goodreads users out there who have been hearing about the recent Goodreads broughaha and have no idea whatsoever what the heck is going on over there.  And why should they?  If like me, you are one of those Goodreads users who have just been minding your own business, updating your status, checking out what your friends are reading, and occasionally getting sucked into the never-ending book quiz (damn that quiz), there is no reason any of the recent controversy would ever cross your path.

After all, Goodreads has yet to officially notify members of this change to their Terms of Service. Have you had to officially acknowledge any new terms of usage yet?  I didn't think so.  And yet, here it is:  NEW POLICY

So what on earth led to this?  I will attempt to give you the Reader's Digest Respite version here.  For those of you who are well-versed in the controversy, I hope you will forgive my simplistic version here. Yet I believe that the entire thing is, at the core, quite simple.

Goodreads, like it's owner Amazon, has always allowed comments to be made on any book review posted on the site.  Comments of course can run the gamut from another reader saying, "Hey, I loved that book too!" to the author commenting, "Only 2 stars? You wouldn't know a good book if it bit you in the ass."  I'm sure you see the potential for some pretty heated conversations here.

Now couple this with the Goodreads' feature of shelving.  Users can create any shelves they like. If you'd like a shelf labeled "Green Covers," go for it.  Want a shelf called "Wouldn't Read it if it Were the Last Book Left on Earth"?  Hey, knock yourself out. Again, I'm sure you see the potential for some over-the-top stuff here.  There were shelves that were pretty out there.  "Author is an Asshole" was one of the milder ones. You can see where authors, especially self-published ones with no publicists to help them navigate the messy world of reviewers, might take umbrage and start making comments.  Reviewers, especially the ones lacking enough common sense to create shelf names like this in the first place, were likely to comment back.  It didn't take long before all-out wars were being raged on Goodreads.

Goodreads staff became experts at sticking their heads in the sand. Perhaps understandably, they did not want to get involved in these wars. Both sides became very good at calling the other trolls, internet bullies, stalkers, etc and so on. This seems a good time to point out who was taking part in this. It really has been a small percentage of reviewers (but, boy, are they ever vocal...wow) and self-published authors.  The self-published authors, feeling that Goodreads wasn't helping them get rid of the reviewers who were giving them 1 star reviews, went and founded a website called Stop the Goodreads Bullies.  Somewhere along the line, they blurred the line between online bullying and a poor book review, but that's another post and I won't go there right now. Suffice it to say that they are as bad as the people they wanted to curtail, going so far as to track down the reviewers who give them negative reviews and publish all of their personal information (ie, names, home addresses, work addresses and phone numbers) online. Ahem. Who's the bully there, right?

Anyhoo.  So after months of threatening, screaming, hollering, yelling, tantruming (I know, that's not a word, but if you've ever had a two year old, you know of what I speak), Goodreads finally caved in to the self-published authors and said "Okay, okay, we give in. We will delete all those nasty reviews, the nasty shelves, and won't let them do that to you anymore."

So now you can reference my post yesterday where I resigned my Goodreads membership.  I get that a lot of Goodreads people went too far.  I don't agree with the nasty shelving and the nasty commenting and the arguing back and forth by both reviewers and authors.  But I don't believe in deleting reviews. I don't believe in deleting shelves. And I don't believe in kowtowing to authors.  

Now before I piss off every author out there by saying that please understand: I value your work (heck, given the amount I read in a year, I love you!).  But once you put your work out there for everyone to read it is like any other work of art and open to criticism. And not everyone is going to love it. And so what, right? You created it, you love it and that is all that matters. The rest of us can read it and go to hell in an apple cart.  That is what is called having a thick skin.

And if I digress anymore in this post I will end up with a novel of my own.  Goodreads: we have two sides of the argument and as usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But the answer is not, and never will be, censorship. Goodreads believes the answer lies in prohibiting the mention of author behavior in any book review (excepting autobiographies). I intensely disagree. An author's behavior very much influences my book-buying decision making.

Example: last summer I discovered the magical world of Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.  I know, I'm a little late to the game, right? This sci-fi classic has been in print forever and it wasn't until last year that I finally got around to reading it.  I was blown away. It was that good. And I was thrilled that there were so many more books in the series.  And then I found out about the author.  Card, if you didn't already know, puts his considerable wealth to use by backing political entities devoted to anti-gay rights causes.  Of course he is free to do so. But I am free to not purchase his books. I should also be free to mention this in any review of write of his book. It broke my heart to make the decision not to purchase the sequels given how much I loved that damned book, but I have a moral compass that speaks pretty loudly in these kind of cases. 

It is the same with Goodreads. My moral compass is screaming at me.


  1. I'm not a strong GoodRead user, in fact I think I've got less than 100 books listed. When I first heard about the controversy I thought it was no big deal, after all, I'm not over there very much. But the moral compass comment hit me. If I'm not there much if would be no big deal to delete my account. And while I'm not there much it is still a drop in the membership.

    Thank you for all the information

  2. I still don't know what I'm going to do. I feel the same way you do about what GR is doing even though it doesn't affect me directly. However, I have had multiple discussions with other bloggers who feel that GR is the way to go for driving site visits and generating interest (ahem - Bloggers Rec - ahem). Now, I don't use GR to drive site visits to my own site, but I do love how it keeps track of every book I've read. Still, you are absolutely correct about the moral compass. However, should we really let a vocal minority ruin a good thing for everyone else?


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