In the aftermath of the recent events regarding audiobook narrator Phil Gigante and Karen Marie Moning, wherein the author defended recently convicted sex offender Gigante against his charges and quickly apologised after reader protests, a number of her fans have been expressing their support in a strange yet inimitably internet based manner.
These supporters, small in number but loud in their defences, have been seeking to lower the average Goodreads reader ratings of various authors who spoke up against Moning by giving each of their books one star out of five. It’s a tactic that’s both incredibly petty and surprisingly effective. Not in that it changes anyone’s minds – those already succinct to the details have made up their minds – but it creates an instant impact on that author’s public platform, one that many readers use to make a snap judgment on whether or not to read their work. A drop in average ratings to an outsider not following the Gigante-Moning case may not know what’s going on and just assume readers aren’t enjoying the books.
Goodreads, as always, are slow off the mark do take action on these blatantly false and malicious reviews. The site is laden with them and they seem happy to let them be, for better or worse.
The one star protest does have its benefits. For many readers, it’s one of their only forms of opposition that many will listen to. For example, after Kathleen Hale stalked a reviewer and gleefully documented it for the Guardian, many took to Goodreads to one star her books, one of which hadn’t been released yet, and leave links to the story justifying their actions. How much of the subsequent action taken from Hale’s publisher – the sequel to her first book seemed to disappear from their websites for many months before quietly announcing a much later release date with no major fanfare – was due to this protest can’t be quantified. However, for readers wanting to make informed decisions as a consumer, such things can be helpful.
In such instances, the rating is a clear and strong response to an author. What makes it different from the Moning example is that those giving Hale one star aren’t doing so in support. Moning’s fans are going after authors who publicly spoke up against her as an act of fandom. This is where the problems lie. Objectively speaking, authors like Jenny Trout and Jeanine Frost are in the right by coming forward and condemning the victim blaming and questionable morals originally displayed in Moning’s post. There was no malice behind their actions, yet they are still receiving backlash from Moning’s supporters. We ourselves at Bibliodaze received a couple of the expected negative comments but nothing that tried to affect our livelihoods. These supporters may not be doing the rating in the name of Moning or by her command, but their intentions are clear, and it doesn’t reflect well on Moning. This twisted form of defence just exacerbates existing tensions.
A lot of the possible issues that lie with pre-emptively rating a book are tied to the perceived power of sites like Goodreads and Amazon. Both websites are wildly popular, easily accessible and inextricably tied to the publishing industry in a variety of ways. While both have had their fair share of drama and questionable business decisions, their stances as consumer tools are unbeaten. As such, this makes Goodreads ideal for reader-driven activism or protests: A blog entry on an author’s stalking may reach a couple of thousand people if it’s lucky enough to go viral, but a link to that post on the author’s Goodreads page will immediately reach a wider audience.
Pretty much every book blogger I know has a Goodreads page, but I also know an equal amount of Goodreads users who have no blog presence. As we’ve discussed in the past, the increasing costs and pressures of maintaining a website can be daunting to many, particularly younger readers. While a blog offers more freedom, it also restrains in other parts, and a good portion of readers prefer to be without that, hence the popularity of review websites. As such, these places are the only way many can voice concerns, lead discussions and develop crucial analysis. Of course this privilege can and has been abused in the past, and it’s up to Goodreads moderators to respond accordingly, but such instances should not invalidate the continuing conversations of readers and consumers.
While much of this conversation has revolved around negative ratings, it’s worth noting that many readers put up 5 star reviews months or even years before a book’s release. This may be a way to express anticipation, and these posts act as space for continued discussion of the work in question. What differentiates these examples from their negative counterparts is the reactions they elicit. I’ve yet to see an author complain about a reader giving their book 5 stars before actually reading it. I understand the disappointment in pre-emptive negativity, but the silence over the opposing actions feel like an extension of the pernicious ‘Be Nice’ culture that has permeated publishing and book blogging for several years. Positivity is always good, regardless of how mindless or calculated it is: Negativity is always bad, thoughtfulness be damned, and any consequences one faces for expressing an honest opinion should be expected.
Goodreads’s stance as an open space for opinion and consumer discussion should remain at the forefront of all that the site does. Sometimes users step outside of pre-set definitions in order to find new and more fitting ways to use the tools at their disposal. Goodreads may not have intended this particular brand of protest and analysis to take place on their platform but in many ways it’s the perfect site to do so, and they should embrace the unorthodox while maintaining a sturdy moderation system that allows growth but not harassment. I’d suggest more effective ways for Moning’s fans to express support for their favourite author, but I think they stopped listening to me a while back.