Monday, October 6, 2014

Bullies on Amazon and GoodReads

(by popular request, I'm sharing/re-posting this editorial that I wrote last year.)

Stop the Bullies on GoodReads and Amazon.
 (copyright by Elizabeth Eagan-Cox)

Recently, a author friend told me he rarely participates in GoodReads ("GR"), especially now that Amazon owns GR.

I’m not a huge fan of GR, and I am rarely on it simply because of a time issue… I do not have much of it these days and if I had more time, I would be more involved with social networks. Anyway… my friend once sang GR’s praises on how it was an excellent venue for an author to help get the word out about his novels (hmm, should point out that my friend is a professional author, not self-published).

Lately, though, he has become frustrated with GR, saying that the ‘hive mentality’ of GR’s bullies and commentators has gotten out of hand. He pointed to a bio of an official and self-chosen anonymous identity of a GR Librarian as an example of poor behavior by a GR staff member (verbatim): "I will never ever buy a book from an author who self-promotes, un-solicited, on GoodReads. This is a book lovers site, not a used car lot" – Jennifer, member since July 2008. Note: "Jennifer" is the only identity listed for this GR Librarian.

Amazon and GR encourages authors to purchase ad space, and it is not cheap. GR has specific do’s and don’ts about where, on GR, an author can post (for free) a comment that might be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as promotion… including an announcement about a free giveaway/contest of book(s) for GR readers. 

This being the case, the opposite is true in regard to a paid-for advertisement… a purchased ‘solicited’ promotion is okay with GR, regardless of the fact that the ad will be displayed in the sidebar of GR sections/pages/groups that the book subject is not necessarily pertinent to… yet, is permissible… because, well…it was paid for and therefore is not un-solicited? Okay, I get it. GR is a retail site and they need revenue to operate… and so do authors.

My thoughts… I was once a librarian, a real-life librarian at a school district for 21 years. I would never discourage an author, whose books are read by my patrons, by issuing insults referencing their work as a "used car lot."  Authors and readers co-exist in an equal exchange of needs and desires, one does not exist without the other. I would hope that the guardians of writing, such as booksellers and librarians, would act in fairness and appreciate the two sides to this coin... allowing for equal representation. Alas, I know this not to be true.

Amazon and GR are guilty of allowing hate-spewing puppet reviews, what I call "slamming." And the reviews I’ve read aren’t true reviews, in the journalistic and librarian tradition. The so-called reviews are opinions that are, all too often,  driven by ego, envy, hive mentality and/or the covert ‘make-money-at-home’ schemes of a person being paid to leave a rave review and/or a bad review. Fair play is rarely, (if ever, according to my friend) a requirement.

Equally unreliable is a reader’s awareness of the quirky nature and business of publishing technology. Hence, the uninformed reviewers that rant about typos and mechanics in a world of word processing and manuscript formatting technology that is never in agreement with all the various ebook and hardprint distributors or retailers. Recently, I re-read Fried Green Tomatoes and came across the same kind of typos/spelling/punctuation glitches that readers have complained about in books (including my own books).

However, I know that the various retail editions of formatting (ebook and hardprint) all too often change homonyms (are/our) substitute punctuation and divide compound words, to name a few of the glitches that are common. I know it will be a cold day in Hell before publishing will ever change because it involves brand-name technology. Brand names do not share their technology, and because of this, there is not a practical sure-fire format in which a publisher can assure that the error-free manuscript they have turned over to the brand name retailer will be the same manuscript that is prepared for retail. I know these facts to be true, not because I work in the industry, but because I am a reader and I make a point of staying informed about a pastime I love and respect.

Getting back to my friend… At his urging I visited Amazon and GR and I read random reviews from different genres of fiction. I am agreement with my friend that at Amazon and GR, good manners and common decency have been replaced by the arrogant power of an anonymous person being given the very broad audience of an international soap-box to carelessly rant about another person’s work...  and this is done in a manner that exhibits no conscience for the fact that many of the authors are trying really hard to earn a living, just pay the bills and put food on the table. 

I cannot but wonder how many of the Amazon and GR reviews/opinions are posted by anonymous people who would never face a neighbor and say the same words, speak the very same ugly thoughts… IF they had to owe up to their personal identity and do so face to face?

Do all the reviewers, posters and commentators on Amazon and GR staff behave so badly? NO. Thankfully, no.

But beware… the bullies are growing in numbers.

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox… my real name.