Goodreads decides readers are their problem

by Sunita

My post yesterday generated terrific comments. Go catch up with them here if you haven’t already.

Since then, an interesting new development has occurred: Goodread’s community manager, Patrick Brown, has announced that GR is coming up with a new set of guidelines for reviews. Amber has a cogent summary and critique on her blog.

On the face of it, the new policy sounds reasonable: reviews that are not about the book itself will not be shown on the book page. But they don’t just get hidden from the book page; they disappear. At the moment, even the person who writes the review can’t see it. That is supposed to be fixed. But even if that glitch is repaired, the review will only be visible to people who are already following or friends of the reviewer.

What does this mean? If I go to Ridley’s bratty-authors-to-avoid shelf, I can see her review because Ridley is a friend. But I can’t see anyone else’s review of the same book unless I have a GR relationship with them. So I can’t see the extent to which other people agree with her.

This new rule applies to all books, including those that have not been ranked, i.e., that have no star rating. Therefore, it also affects the ability of readers to communicate how they shelve books. Many readers don’t put star rankings or an actual “review” when they’re making avoid-this-author shelves; they’re shelving for themselves, and if there is a discussion about why the book is shelved that way, it shows up in comments. Now those shelves themselves may be at risk.

What this is telling me is that GR’s administrators have been listening to a small group of authors rather than readers over the last few months, and their decisions are “not in the direction of open, sincere communication among readers.” Those are Amber’s words, and I cosign them absolutely.

I join a social media site because it makes my life better and more interesting. I understand that GR, like every other site, needs to monetize its member behavior in order to flourish. But when it reduces my autonomy and treats me as part of the problem rather than one of the strengths of the platform, I take notice.

And the biggest thing I noticed in the discussion yesterday was that the flip side of the problem, i.e., authors who invade reader spaces, is nowhere addressed or discussed. Goodreads administrators, who can’t staff the site on weekends or keep the damn thing running 24/7, are now devoting precious resources to hiding pages that explain why a reader won’t read a particular author’s books. But they can’t manage to let readers know that they are working on ways to make the environment free of insulting, aggressive author behavior. Is this because GR doesn’t see bad author behavior as a problem?

I want to stipulate here that this is not an author problem per se. It is a problem created by a handful of authors and their fans who don’t understand how to behave maturely and professionally. And GR is responding to that tiny minority, not to the many, many authors and readers who just want that minority reined in and regulated.

Right now, GR is by far the best space for readers, especially readers in my preferred genres. But I don’t need Goodreads. There are a lot of ways to build and nurture online communities. A decade ago, MySpace and AOL were the big dogs. Now they’re part of history. Sure, there are people who still use them, but for the most part they aren’t the users who attract attention and ad revenue. GR should take heed. When readers in one of the most vibrant and engaged subsets of its 9 million members are beginning to look for a new place to talk, they’ve got a problem.

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