Book community Goodreads was bought by Amazon earlier this year, part of the impetus for my blog development. Nothing against Amazon as a retailer–I use their services and have a Kindle–but they have strict language restrictions for reviews, even if you are quoting from the text. I think I contributed about four reviews there before I decided their process was too cumbersome and unsatisfying, partly because of the lack of community connection. What makes GR unique is the connection to groups of other readers–it is easy to get to know a particular reviewer, their reading habits and tastes. In addition, Amazon’s indie book reviews are sock-puppet heavy, so I rarely rely on Amazon as a site of information. Incidentally, I also find their graphics visually displeasing. At any rate, the purchase was inevitable, if only to establish Amazon as primary retailer for books and the general collection of market data.
I understand the reasoning, but part of the charm of GR is a very engaged, literate community that largely says whatever it wants, within reason, in their reviews about books and authors. GR has long had a “secret sauce” recipe for promoting certain reviews, but there is an independent ‘like’ system that operates as well. Goodreads recently set its community on edge with a new policy against discussing author behavior in reviews and the unwarned deletion of user reviews and shelving, in an effort that is widely viewed an attempt to promote product and censor reviewers in favor of authors. The fact that reviews referring specifically to an author’s behavior in a negative manner were removed, and reviews discussing positive behavior remain only fuels the suspicion that the connection is about negative reviews and sales, not about a true review ideology. Regardless of their stated or unstated meaning, the idea that behavior does not impact product is the ultimate in capitalist reasoning, and I can’t ethically keep my concerns quiet.
In the sci-fi and fantasy convention community, for instance, there has been a lot of recent publicity about big-name authors sexually harassing women at cons, and having it condoned because, you know, they were big name authors. A number of authors and convention attendees protested. Author John Scalzi even came up with a statement regarding invitations to cons that do not have anti-harassment policies in place and enforced, and a number of authors co-signed. Perhaps not coincidentally, there’s also been recent debate in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers of America about general sexist behavior/statements of some prominent members, ultimately leading to the ouster of people that could not agree to modulate their statements and/or behavior.
Yes, I see the irony.
The flip side is that some authors’ positive behavior also inspires attention and reviews. There’s a couple of authors that I’ve read and, quite honestly, have been only moderately impressed by their books, but I continue to follow them on blogs and promote them because they are good people. You know, struggling to be an ethical human. To make a difference. Using their platform to lead. Although only in moderate like with their books, I keep trying their books because I like them, as people, not just as creators. Clearly, behavior can have a positive influence on reviewing and book sales as well.
The fact remains, behavior is a part of who we are and how others around us judge us. Remember the saying “actions speak louder than words?” One may argue that creations should stand on their own. Perhaps. But I follow the modernist school of thought that believes contextualizing the work adds layers of meaning. You can’t separate behavior from ‘product,’ and I would think of all people, artists would be the foremost in arguing against this artificial division. As Goodreads works to moderate the reviewers and authors who are behaving badly, they need to be cognizant that behavior does not remain separate from the product. To ask that reviewers focus on the books and ignore actions, for better or for worse, is unacceptable. If this was a mere thought schism, say the idea that behavior, good or bad, should not impact product, that would be one thing. But that they specifically allow the positive and not the negative smacks of the corporate influence eyeballing sales. Right, it is their site. We understand that. But they’ve also essentially started to shift their mission to something more profit-focused at the expense of the community that got them there.